Sarah Waters meets The Girls in this haunting, wickedly perceptive debut set in an all-girl school and seeking to answer the timeless question: Who has authority over a woman's body?
It is 1871. At the farm of Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, a mysterious flock of red birds has descended. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher is waning, 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, seizures, verbal tics, night wanderings. In desperate, the school turns to the ministering of a sinister physician – just as Caroline's body, too, begins its betrayal. As the girls' condition worsens, Caroline must confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world, the ones who insist the voices of the sufferers are unreliable.
Written in intensely vivid prose and brimming with insight, The Illness Lesson is a powerful exploration of women’s bodies, women's minds and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.