Author(s): Peter Rushforth
New York at the turn of the century; a city bursting with new life. Out near Hudson Heights, Longfellow Park -- and area of wealth and position -- is being torn apart to make way for the newly rich and ambitious who threaten to engulf the long-standing residents. The new century brings with it a new order. Butthey still have their traditions, these older families, still have their respectability, their position, their culture. The grander ones even have statues made in their image. Yet, like so many well-orchestrated worlds, their houses contain secrets, rooms, people that they would prefer the rest of the world not to dwell upon. In the Pinkerton household a nineteenth-century embarrassement remains. Alice Pinkerton.
Alice Pinkerton is almost thirty-five, not mad exactly, but disturbed, foolish, not right in the head. She had a friend once, a black servant girl (regarded itself as a harbinger of abnormality) but she disappeared one day, never to return. Alice is tolerated (more or less). free to wander about, free to accompany her family to tea parties and and cultured soirees, free to be condescended to, to have looks exchanged over her, free to be treated like a simpleton.
But the truth is, Alice's mind is razor sharp, honed by the restless imagination, years of reading, and profound contempt for her surroundings. Like her namesake in Through the Looking-Glass, Alice Pinkerton too has a mirror through which to enter a different world, only for her the mirror is her books. Left alone to read, to think, she has devoured the world that brings her mind alive: Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe are her inspiration; Jane Eyre (and Bertha Rochester), Maggie Tulliver, Lady Macbeth her companions, sustaining and nourishing her lonely life.
As she moves through the witless world of Longfellow Park, observing its prejudices, its shallow culture and its vanity, its hatred of truth, she transports those who belittle her into these books and into her own -- secretly-written -- books, where they can no longer hide behind their tea parties and their song recitals, but are forced to act out their true characters, and reveal their true natures.
Twenty-five years in the writing, heartbreakingly funny, fiercely intelligent, Pinkerton's Sister is an extraordinary work of imagination about imagination, a celebration of the power of fiction and its ultimate redeeming quality. It is a dazzling, mesmerising achievement.