Length: 288 Pages
"Feels like both a classical ghost story and like a modern (and very timely) scream of female outrage. A masterpiece" ELIZABETH GILBERT
"You want to know how horrifying things happened while decent people looked on and did nothing? Read this novel" MARY BETH KEANE
“A Sunday Times Book to Read in 2020: A classic ghost story for fans of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Deborah Levy, Jeffrey Eugenides” SUNDAY TIMES STYLE
It is 1871. At the farm of Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, a mysterious flock of red birds has descended. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher is waning, takes the birds’ appearance as an omen that the time is ripe for his newest venture. He will start a school for young women, guiding their intellectual development as he has so carefully guided his daughter’s. Despite Caroline’s misgivings, Samuel’s vision – revolutionary, as always; noble, as always; full of holes, as always – takes shape.
It’s not long before the students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms: rashes, seizures, verbal tics, night wanderings. In desperate, the school turns to the ministering of a sinister physician – just as Caroline’s body, too, begins its betrayal. As the girls’ condition worsens, Caroline must confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world, the ones who insist the voices of the sufferers are unreliable.
Written in intensely vivid prose and brimming with insight, The Illness Lesson is a powerful exploration of women’s bodies, women’s minds and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.
Length: 288 Pages
"Stunningly good—a brainy page-turner that’s gorgeous and frightening in equal measure. The Illness Lesson dazzled me."
"The Illness Lesson is a brilliant, suspenseful, beautifully-executed psychological thriller. With power, subtlety, and keen intelligence, Clare Beams has somehow crafted a tale that feels like both classical ghost story and like a modern (and very timely) scream of female outrage. I stayed up all night to finish reading it, and I can still feel its impact thrumming through my mind and body. A masterpiece."
"The Illness Lesson truly shook me. In prose so sharp it cuts through the decades and arrives at the present day, Clare Beams takes a shocking moment out of true history, and brings it to life. You want to know how horrifying things happened while decent people looked on and did nothing? Read this novel. I believed every nuance of these characters’ thoughts, the conflicts waging war inside their own minds, their devastation, and their courage. I was immensely moved by this story, and the people who populate its pages."
"Clare Beams’ writing has a hypnotic quality. Her images are rendered with inventive, piercing clarity (apples knocking together like knees!), yet she is also doing something quite special with rhythm and pacing, creating a subtle soundscape that completely envelops you in the narrative. Reading The Illness Lesson I experienced the exquisite sense of vertigo that is only ever sparked by a writer who’s so in control of her story . . . That bond of trust did not disappoint: The Illness Lesson shines with generosity and rage, and I was both chilled to the bone by it, and felt comforted and held."
"Beams takes risk after risk in this, her first novel, and they all seem to pay off. Her ventriloquizing of the late 19th century, her delicate-as-lace sentences, and the friction between the unsettling thinking of the period and its 21st century resonances make for an electrifying read. A satisfyingly strange novel from the one-of-a-kind Beams"