The first time I read a book by Josephine Hart was about 8 years ago. I had not heard of her before, nor did I know that she is married to Maurice Saatchi. But the book, in question, (Damage) made a big impression on me at the time. It was later made into a film with Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche as the Protagonists.
Her latest novel "The Stillest Day" is yet another masterly portrayal of obsessive desire gone horribly wrong. It tells the story of an art teacher who lives in a small village with an aged and sick mother and who is resigning herself to marrying a farmer who has been courting her for many years, but who has not yet popped the question. But as one senses that he is just about to do so, a man arrives in the Village with his pregnant wife, and this event brings a dramatic change to their humdrum lives.
Our spinster heroine, named Bethesda Barnet, feels instantly, and for the first time in her life, a physical passion for this newcomer who is to teach at the same school as her. The farmer pops the question and is told that he has to wait for the answer.
Josephine Hart writes in the first person and the thoughts and longings of Miss Barnet are described in gripping and unusually evocative style with a particular emphasis on the body. A certain mounting tension begins to weave itself into the cadence of the book and one almost feels that one is watching a film as one reads this story unfold into an unexpected and psychologically macabre thriller. Its mesmeric quality with the unforeseen twists of events makes it a cross between a Roald Dahl tale and an Alfred Hitchcock film.
The adept and sure-handed author guides us through the inner world of her heroine who inevitably falls in to social disgrace and ruin. And, although, the story is not to my taste, I cannot help but admire the masterfully powerful prose and the way the book is structured. Josephine Hart has an ease with the English language that makes her writing elegant, confident and disquietning.
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