Essentially a love story, Nicholas becomes besotted with Etna and determines to marry her. He cannot understand her initial reluctance, but his persistence pays off. However, Etna remains somewhat distant and unemotional. It is not until the end of the novel that the reasons for her unhappiness unravel.
Set in New Hampshire in the late 1800s, the description of the characters and their small town life is realistic and enduring. The limitations of society and lack of opportunity drive the characters into circumstances which seem immutable. The deep unhappiness of Etna contrasting with the obsessive love displayed by Nicholas makes for disturbing reading. The reader’s sympathies are split between the two.
This is a book that will remain in my memory as a skilled depiction of an unequal and unsatisfactory relationship. There is a sadness that seeps through the narrative that does not leave the reader easily.