The Ophelia Girls

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Title: The Ophelia Girls

Writer: Jane Healey

Publishing House: Haughton Mifflin Harcourt

Date of Publication:  August 10th 2021

Rating: 5 stars

‘’I have run from that summer, tried to forget its hazy pleasures and its tragedies, how it ended, how things fell apart. I have trusted the years to fade my memories and destroyed those photographs, never to be looked at again.’’

‘’There are no answers to be found from this house, from the fields, the woods and the river, even if my dreams are searching for them.’’

The arrival of a friend from her youth takes Ruth back to the last summer of innocence and the haunting memories of the Phelia Girls who idolised Pre-Raphaelite models and spent their days by the water, trying to turn their dreams into reality. Faced with the secrets of the past, Ruth has to cope with her own self. Maeve, her seventeen-year-old daughter, has to cross her own path to adulthood, recovering from a terrible stroke of Fate, discovering the first beatings of her heart and her desires for the future. But our children are always burdened by our own past sins…

‘’And the lightning strike cracked down and a roar of wind came straight towards us, every branch creaking and the leaves heaving like rough seas.’’

Jane Healey’s writing is incredibly beautiful! I’ll say that right away because my review cannot possibly do justice to the beauty of this novel and the less I say the better. The setting, the story, the atmosphere are exceptional. A sleepy hamlet during the last days of a seemingly idyllic summer haunts the characters years after and provides the eternal question: Can we escape the past? Blessed are those who have found the peace to drive every evil of the past away! And what of the hours of solitude we crave when everyone demands too much of us?

‘’And they see me quietly reading’, she said, ‘but they don’t know that in my head I’m dancing with satyrs or following Achilles on the battlefield as he cuts men left and right in violent rage for Patroclus, or that I’m the Sphinx in Thebes demanding Oedipus answer my riddles.’’

The story is rich in symbols. Ophelia and Persephone, the young women who were led astray or so they’d have us believe. Water and flowers, the symbols of life and rejuvenation. Death and Rebirth. Nature is hiding its own secrets well. Art and Literature make our souls flourish, they liberate us when others try to hold us down and lead us astray. Freedom and independence, the bond between children and parents. The expectations of others that are not ours to fulfil. Love and guilt and regret. All these eternal – allow me the adjective – themes are depicted through a tense atmosphere where summer laziness makes feelings go wild, taking over our lives, wed to a deep sensuality and a threatening setting. Storms are brewing underneath the surface. Shakespearean references are abundant and poignant, the scenes of the Ophelia Girls are true poetry, storm imagery and breathtaking nightly sequences create an impeccable canvas.

‘’There’s something terrifying about being awake alone in a dark house, something thrilling. No one watching you but the walls and the empty rooms and the pictures, the mirrors reflecting a shadowy second self.’’

Each character has a special path to follow. I adored Maeve, her passion, her determination, her courage. Stuart and Camille, controversial figures, remained a beautiful mystery to me, enticing and one to ponder on. Alex, on the other hand, was an ox and Ruth didn’t manage to find a way into my heart. Her views, her behaviour, and her hysterics were a bit out of hand for my personal taste.

This issue aside – a personal opinion, naturally – The Ophelia Girls is a breathtakingly beautiful (yes, I know I’ve used the word already…) novel, lyrical and haunting, difficult, demanding, whimsical. It is the summer of innocence and the autumn of our disillusionment.

‘’Soon. Soon I’ll be gone, I’ll be far away where no one knows me, where I can start again with no watchful eyes and no expectations.’’

Many thanks to Haughton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.