The Illness Lesson
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‘A modern scream of female outrage. A masterpiece’ ELIZABETH GILBERT
‘Astoundingly original . . . belongs on the shelf with your Margaret Atwood’ NEW YORK TIMES
Haunting, intense and irresistible, The Illness Lesson is an extraordinary debut about women’s minds and bodies, and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.
In 1871, at an elite new school designed to shape the minds of young women, the inscrutable and defiant Eliza Bell has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.
Before long, the other girls start to succumb to its peculiar symptoms – rashes, tics,
night wanderings and fits.
As the disease takes hold, teacher Caroline Hood tries desperately to hide her own symptoms, but
the powers-that-be turn to a sinister physician with dubious methods.
Does Caroline have the courage to confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world
and protect the young women in her care?
‘You want to know how horrifying things happened while decent people looked on and did nothing? Read this novel’ MARY BETH KEANE
‘Subtle, clever, suspenseful . . . builds to a shocking climax’ DIANE SETTERFIELD
‘A Sunday Times Book to Read in 2020: A classic ghost story for fans of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Deborah Levy, Jeffrey Eugenides’ SUNDAY TIMES STYLE
Beams excels in her depiction of Caroline, an intriguingly complex character, and in her depiction of the school, which allows the reader a clear view of changing gender roles in the period, with parallels to today's sexual abuse scandals. This powerful and resonant feminist story will move readers * Publishers Weekly * Narrated from a painfully intimate perspective, The Illness Lesson explores the consequences of an outrageous medical treatment inflicted upon adolescent girls in 1870's New England to cure "hysteria". In Clare Beams' luminous and suspenseful prose, the unspeakable is spoken, falteringly at first, then with triumphant strength. Its timeliness will be evident to readers for whom the suppression of female sexuality / identity is an ongoing and urgent issue. * Joyce Carol Oates * Stunningly good-a brainy page-turner that's gorgeous and frightening in equal measure. The Illness Lesson dazzled me. * Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks * Clare Beams' writing has a hypnotic quality. Her images are rendered with inventive, piercing clarity (apples knocking together like knees!), yet she is also doing something quite special with rhythm and pacing, creating a subtle soundscape that completely envelops you in the narrative. Reading The Illness Lesson I experienced the exquisite sense of vertigo that is only ever sparked by a writer who's so in control of her story . . . That bond of trust did not disappoint: The Illness Lesson shines with generosity and rage, and I was both chilled to the bone by it, and felt comforted and held. * Livia Franchini, author of 'Shelf Life' * The Illness Lesson truly shook me. In prose so sharp it cuts through the decades and arrives at the present day, Clare Beams takes a shocking moment out of true history, and brings it to life. You want to know how horrifying things happened while decent people looked on and did nothing? Read this novel. I believed every nuance of these characters' thoughts, the conflicts waging war inside their own minds, their devastation, and their courage. I was immensely moved by this story, and the people who populate its pages. * Mary Beth Keane, author of 'Ask Again, Yes' * Beams takes risk after risk in this, her first novel, and they all seem to pay off. Her ventriloquizing of the late 19th century, her delicate-as-lace sentences, and the friction between the unsettling thinking of the period and its 21st century resonances make for an electrifying read. A satisfyingly strange novel from the one-of-a-kind Beams * Kirkus * The Illness Lesson is a brilliant, suspenseful, beautifully-executed psychological thriller. With power, subtlety, and keen intelligence, Clare Beams has somehow crafted a tale that feels like both classical ghost story and like a modern (and very timely) scream of female outrage. I stayed up all night to finish reading it, and I can still feel its impact thrumming through my mind and body. A masterpiece. * Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love * The gripping novel meditates on how an all-male establishment can deny women's pain, and how the consequences can shape a society. * Vanity Fair * A Sunday Times Books to Read in 2020: A classic ghost story for fans of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Deborah Levy, Jeffrey Eugenides * Sunday Times Style * A top pick for the coming year . . . this haunting novel blends historical fiction with a timely comment on women's bodies and minds, and those who think they can control them. Unmissable. * Stylist *
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