Illness Lesson
Clare Beams

Book cover image

Narrated By: Ann Marie Lee

Duration: 10 hours and 14 minutes

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

"Brilliant, suspenseful, beautifully-executed. 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. A masterpiece."
Elizabeth Gilbert

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.

© Clare Beams 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020

Genre

Historical fiction, Modern & contemporary fiction, Gender studies: women & girls, Historical crime & mysteries

Listen to a sample

‘Subtle, clever, suspenseful . . . builds to a shocking climax’

Diane Setterfield

Alcott meets Shirley Jackson, with a splash of Margaret Atwood. It’s dark, quirky and even titillating . . . on the edge between realism and ghost story

The Washington Post

Astoundingly original, this impressive debut belongs on the shelf with your Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler collections.

New York Times

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 Eat, Pray, Love

A top pick for the coming year . . . this haunting novel blends historical fiction with a timely comment on women’s bodies and minds, and those who think they can control them. Unmissable.