New Mexico, 2017: Sylvia Wren is one of the most important American artists of the past century. Known as a recluse, she avoids all public appearances. There’s a reason: she’s living under an assumed identity, having outrun a tragic past. But when a hungry journalist starts chasing her story, she’s confronted with whom she once was: Iris Chapel.
Connecticut, 1950: Iris Chapel is the second youngest of six sisters, all heiresses to a firearms fortune. They’ve grown up cloistered in a palatial Victorian house, mostly neglected by their distant father and troubled mother, who believes that their house is haunted by the victims of Chapel weapons. The girls long to escape, and for most of them, the only way out is marriage. But not long after the first Chapel sister walks down the aisle, she dies of mysterious causes, a tragedy that repeats with the second, leaving the rest to navigate the wreckage, to heart-wrenching consequences.
Ultimately, Iris flees the devastation of her family, and so begins the story of Sylvia Wren. But can she outrun the family curse forever?
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you so much to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the chance to read this one early*
The Cherry Robbers is an exquisite, haunting story which encapsulates loss, grief, sisterhood and sensuality resulting in a truly memorable story. The synopsis definitely interested me but I couldn’t possibly have foreseen how much I would love this book and how emotional it would make me. This is definitely one of the best works of southern gothic / historical fiction I’ve read thus far and it’s making me crave more of this genre because the two tie together wonderfully.
This is my first time reading any of Sarai Walker’s writing but consider me a fan because the way the story played out was masterful in horror and a creeping suspense which pervades the entire story. The prose was decadent and enthralling, especially all the descriptions of flowers and the focus on the natural world as a whole was so well done. I liked how the focus on nature tied in with the Chapel sisters names, as they’re all named after flowers; Aster, Rosalind, Calla, Daphne, Iris and Hazel. The whole novel has this haze like a Sofia Coppola film, like a dazed summer / virgin suicides. The urgency and potency of youth and female sexuality
As well as the writing, I really loved the characters and how Walker made me care for them all so deeply. While Sylvia aka Iris is our protagonist, each of the Chapel sisters is given enough exploration and page time to be well developed and for a reader to get attached to them. It’s the fact that I liked them all that made their tragic fates even sadder. Despite knowing that they would meet their end, I still wasn’t prepared for the reality of it. I think it’s even more heartbreaking as their dynamic as a group was so well written and believable. They’re as close as sisters could be, relying on each other for everything as they navigate their sequestered childhood and their emotionally distant parents.
Another striking note within the novel was about mental health, specifically the mental health of women and how patriarchal norms played into the suppression of women who veered outside of expectations. I felt this intense sadness for many of the characters in the book, but especially Belinda, the Chapel matriarch. For the majority of the book, I wasn’t sure if she was genuinely being haunted by ghosts or if she was experiencing hallucinations but either way, something is clearly distressing her and the fact that nobody believes her is nothing short of heartbreaking. As you read on, you see just how much the male figures at the time controlled women’s life and health and if they went out of turn, they would get hospitalised, and at times indefinitely.
Until next time,