The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater

by Alice Thomas Ellis
     
 

As family members gather at the bedside of their ailing patriarch, very little is as it seems and there is an ominous tension in the air -- without a doubt, this is the territory of Alice Thomas Ellis. Hailed as a brilliant chronicler of the boredom, bad climate, and general creepines of the rural English countryside, she has invented her own fictional genre: the… See more details below

Overview

As family members gather at the bedside of their ailing patriarch, very little is as it seems and there is an ominous tension in the air -- without a doubt, this is the territory of Alice Thomas Ellis. Hailed as a brilliant chronicler of the boredom, bad climate, and general creepines of the rural English countryside, she has invented her own fictional genre: the "supernatural comedy of manners." In this, her first novel, she turns ordinary occasions such as a family dinner or a village cricket match into events fraught with fear and indefinable menace.

Daughter-in-law Rose, in whose home the family patriarch is dying, manipulates the scene and her guests -- Angela, her conservative sister-in-law, and Ermyn, the visiting single daughter. Rose relishes her post, displaying her gift for disarming family members by moving furniture about, making shocking remarks to Angela, and serving up mischievously seductive meals. Ermyn, meanwhile, is fixating on various Bible passages, in particular the gruesome tale of the concubine in the country of the Benjamites. Now, her home, a small Welsh tourist town, grows inhospitable. Even Phullis, the dying man's cook and caregiver, is drawn into the eerie tension that surrounds the deathbed and the entire household. In a brilliant clash of expectations and reality, the author presents a close look at the conniving that underlie a family gathered in anticipation of death.

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Editorial Reviews

David Finkle
. . .[A] juicy blend of Anton Chekhov and Ivy Compton-Burnett. . . .Choosing to leave answers to the imagination is Ellis' way of saying that imagination is all we have in our efforts to comprehend one another. . . .Though The Sin Eater may be about dealing with poisonous natures, itlends itself all the same to being gobbled up whole.
New York Times Book Review
Evening Standard
Funny, upper-class, and decidedly original....One of the most accurate portraits of contemporary British life I have yet read.
Guardian
A first novel of wit and malice....Shamelessly clever and never vague.
Irish Press
Combines lyric description with caustic wit in porportions that make it a joy to read.
Nelly Heitman
The Sin Eater takes a profound look into the darker side of human motivations; where selfish interests push aside traditions meant to preserve the whole and where hypocrisy and subterfuge lead those who cast the falsest shadows into paying the highest price. Somber in tone, yet fascinating in its depth and sophistication, this latest Ellis novel is one to savor. -- ForeWord Magazine
Sunday Times (London)
Not a paragraph, scarcely a word, is ever wasted.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Britain's not-quite-newly mobile social order is vividly portrayed in this comical tour de force by veteran writer Ellis. An old family in Wales has gathered at its manor house to attend the dying of the family patriarch, the Captain. Mischievous heroine Rose, the daughter of the local vet, is married to Henry, the eldest son and heir. Michael, the younger son, is married to conservative, snobbish Angela. A repressed younger sister, Ermyn, longs only to become a nun. Ellis's satire includes those belowstairs, too. Housekeeper Phyllis, once the mainstay of the great house, now divides her days between nursing the Captain and cooking treats for her plump grandson, Gomer, who does nothing at all. Phyllis's son, known in the family as Jack the Liar, gets drunk as often as possible and settles for idleness the rest of the time. A pet ewe named Virginia Woolf wanders about. The quaint village of Llanelys, where the family lives, sports modern signs of commerce in Welsh and English; these days, instead of raising sheep, the locals fleece tourists for a living. Ellis's hilarious narrative moves briskly, helped by prose that is precise and illustrative, without a wasted word. Anglophiles will love this book, more evidence from Booker short-lister Ellis (Fairy Tale) that the British have not lost the knack for self-mockery. (Oct.)
David Finkle
. . .[A] juicy blend of Anton Chekhov and Ivy Compton-Burnett. . . .Choosing to leave answers to the imagination is Ellis' way of saying that imagination is all we have in our efforts to comprehend one another. . . .Though The Sin Eater may be about dealing with poisonous natures, itlends itself all the same to being gobbled up whole. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Britisher Ellis follows Fairy Tale (1998) with another Welsh-set story, this one with less magic of the elfin variety but no diminishment of her own wondrous sort. The modern-day siblings (and their spouses) of an ancient family gather at the centuries-old family house in Llanelys, on the Welsh coast, drawn together by two events. One of these is the cricket-match, held annually on the grounds, between family and townsmen; the other is the lingering death-by-leukemia of the father of the family in an upstairs bedroom. Ellis never misses an irony, and the significances of the "Captain's" dying ("Father had always taken good care of his blood ") as the family slides into decline in the march of a hyper-egalitarian age are elevated all the more through his being largely ignored by those in the rooms downstairs as some of them lament, and others fritter away, the vestiges and traditions of the noble life. So it is that elder son and scion Henry bumbles while his beautiful (and wise) wife Rose laments the watering down of her native Irish Catholicism. Second son Michael—who will contribute indeed to the novel's climax, quarrels with not-so-intelligent wife Angela, who flirts in turn with Edward, the alcoholic ultraconservative journalist ("His wife tried to kill him a few months ago," explained Rose. "So he gets away whenever he can. Mostly here"). There are also cook and caretaker Phyllis, her son Jack the Liar and grandson Gomer—the "downstairs" element of the house, contributors in more ways than one to the weekend's symbolic decline. Perhaps most important of all is the adolescent Ermyn, thoughtful sister of Henry and Michael ("she knew where she was now; there was nocomfort and no love, not anywhere") who sees—well, sees everything, right to the inexorable end. Another Ellis treasure from start to end: the subtlety of James, the comedy of Spark, the penetrating—and the deep, unflinching—eye of Jane Austen.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780715609408
Publisher:
Duckworth, Gerald & Company, Limited
Publication date:
12/31/1977
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.51(w) x 8.66(h) x (d)

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