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The Ghost at the Table - Book of the Month

by Suzanne Berne

The old adage you can choose your friends but you canít choose your family is an appropriate one for this sharp and clever novel.

Cynthia, single, a writer living in San Francisco is invited by her sister Frances to visit her and her family at home in Massachusetts for that most hallowed of American holidays, Thanksgiving.

Frances is the opposite of Cynthia. She has all the qualities of the modern domestic goddess: running her home and successful interior design business with super-woman skill, while caring for a family of two daughters and her faithful (or is he?) husband Walter. Cynthia, surmising that there is something up Francesís sleeve, some ulterior motive, sums her up thus: ďFrances isnít one to give up easily, especially when it comes to finding a way to disguise some awkward or unsightly corner, which is why, perhaps, sheís succeeded so well as an interior decorator.Ē

Cynthiaís instinct is correct. What Frances hasnít said is that she has included their estranged father Robert, now eighty and wheelchair-bound, in the arrangements. Cynthia reluctantly agrees to come consoling herself with the fact that she can do some research on her book on Mark Twain and his daughters while sheís there. But deep down she believes itís time to clear the air and speak some home-truths such as the pain their fatherís philandering caused and the unspoken circumstances around the death of their mother.

What follows is a fascinating book written in simple, elegant prose about a shared family history and the different versions of that history. Unfortunately, several of the protagonists in the story canít give their point of view Ė mum and sister are dead and dad is a stroke-victim, helplessly watching the proceedings between his two daughters from his wheelchair. We, the readers, have no third party to back up any memories with fact so that our sympathies are held in balance (weíve all been there Ė thatís not how it happened!) and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet.

Donít be put off by the whimsical cover for this book. In no way does it reflect the content. The US edition cover shows a stark table setting with steely, sharp, shiny cutlery - much more like it!

Read our interview with Suzanne Berne.

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