Picks and Pans Review: Talking to the Dead

updated 09/29/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/29/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Helen Dunmore

This Freudian gothic tale of two siblings with a haunted past—the British author's first novel to be published in the U.S.—is sensual, delectable and chilling. London-based photographer Nina has come to the country to stay with her neurotic older sister Isabel, who, after giving birth to a son, seems more remote and fragile than ever. But family ties are strained, and the tension in the household is as oppressive as the summer's heat. Then Nina begins recovering disturbing childhood memories—including the sudden death 25 years ago of a younger brother. After all, he looked so much like the new baby.

Dunmore isn't afraid to unspool her secrets slowly as Nina's suspicions and betrayals build; soon, each woman claims knowledge that could destroy the other. The prose is limpid—the descriptions of food are voluptuous, the sex scenes urgent and raw—and Dunmore's plotting is masterful. When the truth is finally out, it makes even more unsettling all that has come before it. (Little, Brown, $21.95)

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