Cover image for Featherstone
Gunn, Kirsty.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Physical Description:
256 pages ; 22 cm
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Kirsty Gunn's first novel, Rain, was praised by the New York Times as "exquisitely written . . . every page expresses familiar feelings in ways that are unsentimental and entirely original"; "spellbinding," raved the Boston Globe. That same resonant magnetism and emotional depth infuse her new novel. Featherstone is the story of the mysterious disappearance from an isolated town in Scotland of a young woman whose absence still reverberates in the lives of everyone whose life she touched.
When Sonny Johanssen looks up from his flower bed, he is sure that he has just seen the impossible. And yet he feels her: his niece, Francie, has come home. He's not the only one who senses her presence. Across town, Ray Weldon, Francie's long-suffering high school sweetheart, is anxiously scouring their old haunts, convinced that she has finally returned. But has she really come home, or is her presence some kind of resurrection in the minds of those who love her?
It soon becomes clear that Featherstone is not a traditional tale of small-town life, but that the enigmatic Francie is a catalyst for a different, deeper story. Her homecoming disturbs the inhabitants of this community, unraveling a sense of security and stability and turning inward people's hopes and dreams -- with dangerous but ultimately regenerative consequences.

Author Notes

Kirsty Gunn is the author of several internationally acclaimed works of fiction, most recently the story collection This Place You Return to Is Home. Her first novel, Rain, was made into a feature film that was an official selection in 2002 at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. She lives in London.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gunn's third novel is written in the hauntingly evocative prose that has won her previous titles--Rain (1995) and The Keepsake (1997)--both British and American acclaim. Here, she explores the effects of loss and memory on the people of Featherstone, a tiny village in Scotland. When Francie, a beautiful and spirited young girl, disappears from Featherstone, she leaves behind her high-school sweetheart and the aunt and uncle who raised her. Those who loved her find themselves frozen in a kind of suspended animation, unable to fill the place she held in their lives. Then, years later, the people of Featherstone begin to see her again--her uncle looks up from tending his garden to find Francie watching him; her boyfriend senses Francie's presence at the river where they used to meet. Real or imagined, Francie's reappearance awakens long dormant pain and disturbs the fragile equilibrium of the village. Gunn delicately weaves the dreams and memories of Featherstone's inhabitants into a spellbinding meditation on the dark places love and grief can lead us. --Meredith Parets

Publisher's Weekly Review

Memories of a girl long fled haunt the inhabitants of a small town in this gloomy and amorphous third novel by the author of Rain. Glorious Francie turned her back on Featherstone years ago, but her uncle, Sonny Johanssen, and Ray Weldon, the heartbroken young man she left behind, have never forgotten her. Working in the garden on a Friday, Sonny (known for being "a bit strange") believes he sees Francie standing over him. Rumor spreads quickly over the course of the weekend, sparking murky, disturbing reflections in Ray. The only outlet for the town's emotions is the bar at the Railton Hotel, which is presided over by Margaret, a vampish, narcissistic woman who thinks herself "always as someone on her own, different from the rest." Her strange obsession with beautiful Mary Susan, the daughter of the bar's cook and an aspiring teenage model, foreshadows another character's darker preoccupation with the girl and a final violent attack. Gunn expends more energy on her drifting, oblique, fitfully lyrical prose than on her characters, who seem to be pushing their way through a narrative fog. Featherstone itself is located in a vague hybrid of New Zealand (where Gunn was born) and Scotland (where she lives now). The evocation of self-love is convincing, but the stagnation of the plot, the portentous subject matter and the overstylized language swallow up the story's small felicities. Gunn garnered much praise for Rain and a story collection, This Place You Return To Is Home, but she loses her way in her latest effort. (Feb. 4) Forecast: The critically acclaimed movie version of Rain, out this year, spurred fresh interest in Gunn's writing and should encourage some readers to give Featherstone a chance. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Friday, early eveningoneHe looked up and thought: I know you.His hands were still in earth, where it was warm, but he withdrew them, brought them up to shade his eyes. He looked, with his hands at his forehead that way against the light, and he thought he did know her, though the light was bright on her, and around her bright, and at her back, like foil. It was late, late afternoon.The sun, however, that was a thing he hadnt noticed before. Though he had been out in his garden for most of the day, Johanssen had no reason to be looking at the weather. To kneel on the stiff, sweet-smelling sack he always used for work, to sift with his fingers through the freshly dug flower beds - this was all he had to do: no need to worry then about the light and time around him. Yet now, in the moment of bringing his hands up out of the earth, and the late summer sun suddenly low in the sky and too bright to see, and with the air on his thin, naked arms cooling to cold, though these werent his thoughts - coolness, the slight damp chill of the open air - though these werent his thoughts, when the voice came across to him out of the light he registered then, in that moment, the small drop of temperature and his body felt old then, he became very old when he heard her voice coming across to him from out of the light: Uncle Sonny, its me.Thurson Johanssen was an old man, he didnt need cold air to tell him. Of course he was old, he had an old mans name, but no one called him it. He was old but still they gave him the other name, a great name he could figure, a name for someone who was only a boy. Hey, Son, they said to him. Whats up, Sonny? That was how they were with him, and he always enjoyed it. There was a lightness in their voices when they said the boys name. Great garden again this year, Sonny Jim, they said, and they gave him such pleasure then, with their friendly voices. Your flowers, Sonny. Theyre always the prettiest in town.It was true that he did so love the garden. He loved it in all its parts because, he could figure, all old men must love their gardens, though hed had this one since he was a boy. He had been young like a boy when hed begun with it, when Nona had helped him with the tiny branches and the blossom, yet still he loved the garden now like it was new, loved it in all the parts he could come to because, he supposed, it was a reminder of her, this place where his sister had first showed him how to let things grow. There was the part where the flowers had been thick, waist-high all summer in a kind of cloud, the forget-me-nots and Queen Annes lace, and the tall pale-coloured poppies he favoured best, pale like skins with their dark in the centre like a mouth or an eye, with their black dust. He was in that part now, where they had grown, making the earth soft again for a new planting, smoothing down the ground as if smoothing down paper to draw, the lines and shallow dips for flowers, marking with his fing Excerpted from Featherstone: A Novel by Kirsty Gunn All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Friday, early eveningp. 1
Later, that same nightp. 63
Saturdayp. 111
Sunday, very early morningp. 243