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Much of the novel’s power comes from the way it juxtaposes hubbub and quietness. A vase stands “in the heart of the house, alabaster, smooth, cold, holding the still, distilled essence of emptiness, silence”; outside, preparations for the afternoon’s revelry gather pace. Mrs Swithin’s thoughts rustle through her mind, frequently confusing and eluding her and, as she tells her brother, proving hard to verbalise:
“‘We haven’t the words – we haven’t the words,’ Mrs Swithin protested. ‘Behind the eyes; not on the lips; that’s all.’