Publish date: 1st July 2001
On a sultry June night, a tinker and her baby are trapped in a burning barn. From the big house across the fields the Cairns children watch the blaze, fascinated and shocked. The woman touched their safe, ordinary childhood only once, but as adults they are still haunted by her: Marion facing illness, Eleanor widowhood, David – but who knows what David's life is like? All his sisters know is that in his frequent absences they miss him and when he comes back he makes everything seem magical. And yet David leaves disaster in his wake – or perhaps it's just bad luck that terrible things happen when he is around.
Everyone was up all night: the children forbidden to leave the house, but leaning out of their parent's bedroom window, watching the red glow in the sky intensifying and rising, hearing the fire engines wailing, the fearsome crackle and roar of the blaze. David ran from one window to another, trying to get the best view, white-faced, his eyes burning like coals, his breath coming fast and hard.
“Also a poet, Forsyth's clear sense of how a strong image can jangle the imagination, is once again in play, her economy of language drawing you to places and people that are flesh and blood and all human inconsistency.”
“This is a work of near poetic accomplishment.”
“A writer who evokes in plain, elegant prose and resonant dialogue the lives of ordinary, decent people.”