Hi friends! I hope you’re all soaking in the rest of this wonderful summer (unless you’re in the Southern hemisphere) as it sneakily slips through our fingers. Not that I’m complaining – I’m 100% a fall stan and I’m already getting into spooky mode, but seriously how are we 8 months into 2021? Anyways, today I am back with a review of an ARC that is out today!!! That’s right, not only is this review time, but it’s also this book’s birthday so it deserves all the attention.
A mother’s secret past and her daughter’s present collide in this richly atmospheric novel from the acclaimed author of The Animals at Lockwood Manor.
In the summer of 1973, Ruth and her four friends were obsessed with pre-Raphaelite paintings—and a little bit obsessed with each other. Drawn to the cold depths of the river by Ruth’s house, the girls pretend to be the drowning Ophelia, with increasingly elaborate tableaus. But by the end of that fateful summer, real tragedy finds them along the banks.
Twenty-four years later, Ruth returns to the suffocating, once grand house she grew up in, the mother of young twins and seventeen-year-old Maeve. Joining the family in the country is Stuart, Ruth’s childhood friend, who is quietly insinuating himself into their lives and gives Maeve the attention she longs for. She is recently in remission, unsure of her place in the world now that she is cancer-free. Her parents just want her to be an ordinary teenage girl. But what teenage girl is ordinary?
Alternating between the two fateful summers, The Ophelia Girls is a suspense-filled exploration of mothers and daughters, illicit desire, and the perils and power of being a young woman.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Historical fiction, mystery
Read if you loved: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Content warnings: Grooming, cancer treatment, suicide, alcoholism
In the summer of 1973, Ruth and her girlfriends spent their days in the river, posing in pre-Raphaelite inspired outfits and settings in a quest to live out their tragic and exciting fantasies. They are known as the Ophelia girls, a reference to the Shakespearean heroine they often imitated drowning in the cold depths of the water. But one evening, imitation skirts close to reality, and a time filled with novelty now carries a bitter weight. Twenty-four years later, Ruth returns to the same home, this time with her family, eager to keep those memories buried. But her teen daughter Maeve is recently in remission and is trying to find her place in normal life, setting off a series of events that threaten to expose the dusty skeletons in Ruth’s closet. Healey captures the essence of girlhood and all of its broken edges in lyrical prose and suspense-filled storytelling to create a memorable dual coming-of-age tale.
I’m not sure what I was expecting going into this book, but what I got was a pleasant surprise! There was much more suspense to this story in addition to a lot of darker content that I tend to enjoy, which wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind. Firstly, the writing in this book is simply beautiful. There are no other words for it. Each description conjured tender, bucolic settings that showed up vividly in my mind, and I enjoyed the way it complemented the characters, who are all dreamers and romantics at some point in time. As for the characters themselves, this is one of those books in which none of them are really likable, but they are very interesting to read. From the morbid activities that Ruth and her friends partake in to Maeve’s present-day issues, you could psychoanalyze and pick apart these characters for hours, and that’s something I love in a book. The relationships between them – Maeve and Ruth, Ruth and her friends – are the heart of the novel, and their complexity and messiness is unpacked beautifully.
That being said, this is also one of those books where something fell short but it is difficult to articulate what that is, and that is usually due to an amalgamation of reasons. The first half of the book is fairly slow, and honestly, I knew what was going to happen after the first two chapters. Yes, there were bits of information that were filled in over the course of the story but in general, it was quite predictable. Now, predictability isn’t automatically an issue in my eyes, but something else needs to compensate for it. Usually, it’s highly compelling characters or something along those lines, but like I alluded to before, I found the characters to be incredibly frustrating. So ultimately, I was left with a beautifully written albeit fairly predictable novel with characters that made me want to rip my hair out. It just resulted in a bit of a disconnect because I was far more invested in Ruth’s past, where I did enjoy the characters, and wished there was more of that.
The Ophelia Girls is a beautiful story that I had fun reading, but it wasn’t packing that punch that I was looking for. That being said, if you enjoy suspense novels set in the country-side with highly atmospheric descriptions and flawed characters, this is definitely one to check out. Like I mentioned above, The Ophelia Girls is out today so if this sounds up your alley, you can go grab a copy now! Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.