"Quite soon after I left Richmond Station I turned into a quiet street where the snow was almost undisturbed and, climbing higher, I came to a road that appeared to be deserted. Then I noticed a beautiful fair woman standing in the courtyard outside her house like a statue, standing there so still. As I drew nearer I saw that her hands were moving. She was paring an apple out there in the snow and as I passed, looking at her out of the sides of my eyes, the knife slipped and suddenly there was blood on the snow.' Bella's first glimpse of Gertrude Forbes is at once fairytale and sinister, and so the pattern is set for their future friendship. Both women are lonely in their different ways - Gertrude wealthy yet seemingly barren; Bella poor, scarred, the mother of an illegitimate child. As the snow thaws and different configurations emerge, so Bella, Gertrude and her husband Bernard take on the roles of a macabre, magical story which will conclude on the other side of madness.
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"Bella Winter is homeless and jobless. The mother of a toddler by a man whose name she didn't quite catch, her once pretty face is now marred by a scar from a car accident. She's recently disentangled herself from a selfish and indifferent boyfriend and a cruel and indifferent mother. But she shares a quality common to Barbara Comyns's heroines, a bracingly unsentimental ability to carry on. It's not long before Bella has found not only a job but a vocation, not only a place to live but a home and a makeshift family. As Comyns's novel progresses, the story echoes and inverts the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale The Juniper Tree. Will Bella's hard-won restoration to life and love come at the cost of others' happiness?"--… (more)