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Alien, Charlotte Vale.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1985. 460pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-7710-8677-6. CIP

Reviewed by Leslie McGrath

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

A three-generation family saga, spanning twenty years and two continents, Matters of the Heart tells the story of Frances Holden, her daughter Hadleigh, and granddaughter Bonita. The novel opens in England, in 1940, with Frances, a bored young housewife who seemingly has it all; good looks, a loving, attractive husband, two children, and a well-ordered home. On a strange impulse, she risks losing everything in the pursuit of an un-enthusiastic playboy, who responds to her attentions without welcoming them. A grisly murder takes place; Frances begins her descent into madness. Flashes of sanity imprint the image of her lover, bludgeoned to death, in her mind, although a timely bomb raid destroys the incriminating evidence. Unhinged and alcoholic, but still loved by her husband, Frances is taken to New York. As the years pass, Hadleigh, scarred by hostile and erratic treatment at her mother's hands, and sharing Frances's suicidal tendencies, slowly begins to see a new strength and protective love in her mother. The final reconciliation is achieved by Bonita, who, seeing into her grandmother's mind, divines the truth about the dark secret that has tormented Frances for decades and succeeds in setting her mind at peace.

Unfortunately, too little of a background of-normalcy is provided to make Frances's selfishness and cruelty to her family appear as strange as they are supposed to be. Vale Alien does not succeed in making Frances a sympathetic or even likeable character. Whatever excuses are provided for Hadleigh's self-destructive behaviour, she just seems feeble and spineless; Bonita, a precocious, managing adolescent, is equally unappealing. Another problem is Vale Alien's use of spooky, semi-psychic scenes, apparently just for shock value. Taken too far to enhance the portrayal of psychosis, they end up sounding like a horror movie script.

In spite of these flaws, Vale Alien's twenty-third book, will doubtless be enjoyed by many readers whose taste is for modern-gothic family sagas.

Leslie McGrath, Toronto, Ont.
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