Julia Leigh’s Disquiet was highly recommended by my favorite book critic, Jennifer Reese of EW, who also chose it as a best book of 2008. I was not disappointed. It’s a short, sharp, painful novella. A woman leaves her abusive husband and returns with her two children to her mother’s chateau in France.
The stone stairs leading to the chateau were wide and shallow and worn like soap. The woman took hold of the doorknocker–it was a large bronze ring running through the nose of a great bronze bull–and weighed it in her hand. Knocked. They waited patiently, and their kind of patience was born more from exhaustion, from abandoning any expectation of easy gratification, than from gracious goodwill. She reached out to ruffle the boy’s hair, to give them both some courage. Knock-knock. And old woman answered. She was wearing her perennial uniform, a black dress and white apron, and her hair, grey now, was curled in a tidy bun. They stared at one another without speaking and between them passed an understanding of the unsung miracle of the door–one moment a person wasn’t there, and the next moment…there.
‘Hello Ida,’ said the woman calmly. ‘It’s me.’
Their homecoming is tempered both by their circumstances and a concurrent tragedy in the family. Leigh’s spare prose is chillingly effective at maintaining a sense of dread, along with a palpable tension between the living and the dead. I was reminded of the work of Muriel Spark and Ian McEwan. Disquieting, indeed.