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The Ghost at the Table

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In turns poignant and funny, this haunting novel demonstrates what happens when one person tries to rewrite another’s history and explores the mystery of why families try to stay together, even when it may be in their best interests to keep apart.

Markedly different since childhood and leading very different lives now, Frances and Cynthia have nevertheless managed to remain ‘devoted’ so long as they stay on opposite coasts. However, with the reappearance of their elderly, long-estranged father, they find themselves reunited for Thanksgiving, during which sleeping tensions and old griefs reawaken.

Frances envisions a happy family holiday. Cynthia doesn’t understand how Frances can ignore the past that their father’s presence suddenly revives; a past that includes suspicions about their mother’s death and who was really to blame. As Thanksgiving Day arrives, the sisters continue to struggle with different versions of their shared past, until a warning issued by Cynthia’s friend, Carita, that “Families are toxic, and blood is bloody”, proves prophetically true.

Berne skillfully creates a creeping sense of unease during the gradual unravelling of the sisters’ past and her clever portrayal of conveniently veiled tensions within families will strike a cord with most readers.

By Suzanne Berne, in paperback at 11 euros.