Coming 2/11/20 from Doubleday (US) and Transworld (UK)
“Beams (We Show What We Have Learned, 2016) 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.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“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.”
—ELIZABETH GILBERT, AUTHOR OF CITY OF GIRLS
“Stunningly good—a brainy page-turner that's gorgeous and frightening in equal measure. The Illness Lesson dazzled me.”
—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
“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.”
—mary beth keane, author of ask again, yes
Sarah Waters meets Red Clocks in this searing novel, set at an all-girl school in 19th century, Massachusetts, which probes the timeless question: Who gets to control a woman's body and why, by a writer who is "wickedly sharp-eyed, wholly unpredictable, and wholly engaging" (Joyce Carol Oates)
The year is 1871. In Ashwell, Massachusetts, at the farm of Samuel Hood and his daughter Caroline, a mysterious flock of red birds descends. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher has waned in recent years, 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, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. In desperation, the school turns to the ministering of a sinister physician--based on a real historic treatment--just as Caroline's body, too, begins its betrayal. As the girls' conditions worsens, long-buried secrets emerge, and Caroline must confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities around her, the ones who insist the voices of the sufferers are unreliable. In order to save herself, Caroline may have to destroy everything she's ever known.
Written in intensely vivid prose and brimming with psychological insight, The Illness Lesson is a powerful exploration of women's bodies, women's minds, and the time-honored tradition of doubting both.