The Landscape of Love

By Sally Beauman, Little, Brown, £14.99

With echoes of Dodie Smith's I Captured The Castle, this novel revolves round the three Mortland sisters who, when the story begins, live in a 13th century abbey, deep in a Suffolk countryside village.

It is the summer of 1967. Lucas, a young artist, is sketching Maisie and plying her with questions about her sisters. Maisie, the youngest Mortland, is a child of 13 and unnervingly observant. Now she has a willing listener. He is an adult and he wants to hear her stories about her family.

No detail is spared as she recounts their early days. It was she who first saw Daniel Nunn, a Romany boy from the village. Dan's grandmother could read cards but, as Maisie recalls the day they all had tea in her kitchen and she promised to reveal their futures, her memory falters.

More than 20 years later, Dan's career in advertising ends abruptly. Obsessed by the terrible incident that happened in 1967 at the Abbey, he trawls the past for answers to his sense of dislocation and guilt.

At Lucas's major retrospective, Dan studies the now-famous and controversial portrait of 'The Sisters Mortland', painted that last summer at the Abbey. The figures are life-size and its strange perspective and charged stillness makes them appear as if they could step out of the frame.

Memories of the sisters and a guilt-ridden yearning for his Suffolk home and family churn with his present despair and haunt his every thought. But will these images of his past reveal anything more than shadows?

Packed with characters and evoking a period of time that has disappeared, Landscape of Love is a gripping read.

Emily Lea

Belfast Telegraph, 8.1.05.