On a private estate near the top of a mountain lives the Vandersanden family. Neurotic, aristocratic Mieke grooms her carpets while keeping a close eye on her family and her neighbours. Her husband, the self-made man Stefaan, is building up a career in a pharmaceutical company which is threatened by scandal. Daughter Sarah, overprotected by her parents and curious for the real life, is finding her own path; like a contemporary Madame Bovary or an Anna Karenina, she longs for freedom and individuality. But will she find an escape from the claustrophobic family dramas and secrets that surround her?
Saskia de Coster is already well-established as an author in her native Belgium, but is newly translated for the English market. She shows her skill here as she picks apart the every day life of the Vandersanden family and highlights the ridiculous, starting with the public face of a family that has very private idiosyncracies.
At the heart of the family is Sarah, who is just a baby at the beginning of the novel, but who blossoms throughout (past the tricky teenage stage) to become an independent woman at the end, but how has she been affected by how she and her family had lived in her early life?
There were definite moments of dark humour in the novel, but also some genuinely tragic moments, particularly those regarding Stefaan’s brother, and the characters are carefully written and contrast well – particularly Mieke’s larger-than-life brother in comparison to Stefaan’s cantankerous mother.
As a character study, the book works well and it’s definitely for those who are looking for depth, rather than non-stop action.
I was given a copy of this book by the Publisher (World Editions) in exchange for an honest review.