A lively, moving novel that vividly recreates the 1880s: the harsh lives; the attitudes to madness and to drunkenness; and the strength of friendship and love.
After an accident at four years old, Libby Budd has difficulty speaking. Her devoted father refuses to see there's a problem - even when she starts having fits, seeing dead people and, as she grows older, behaving erratically and violently. In the 1880s, all the doctors can recommend is that she be sent to an asylum, but it's only when Libby's father dies that her desperate mother, Sylvia, considers this seriously. Their community of Stafford is disintegrating as sources of work disappear; Sylvia's close friends the Bramwells have moved to Hokitika; and people there are preoccupied with their own concerns, new scandals, new ventures and new settlers. The only person Sylvia can turn to is Arnold Price, the lodger, and he has his own reasons for wanting Libby out of the way.