Set in 1970s England, Hilary Mantel’s first novel is a wild amalgam of social satire and gothic motifs, and also a powerful characterization of the lingering effects of abuse. The multilayered plot centers on the widowed Evelyn Axon, a medium terrorized by the spirits she conjures. She lives in a ramshackle Victorian with her mentally disabled and mysteriously pregnant thirty-four-year-old daughter Muriel (think a more insidious Grey Gardens). Evelyn and Muriel’s story runs parallel to Isabel Field’s, the social worker assigned to Muriel’s case. Isabel, professionally inexperienced and with family troubles of her own, has an affair with the married brother of the Axon’s nosy neighbor, Mrs. Sidney. Eventually the two storylines merge, catapulting the reader toward the novel’s violent end.