In 1473, fourteen-year-old Blanca dies in a hilltop monastery in Mallorca. Nearly four hundred years later, when George Sand, her two children, and her lover Frederic Chopin arrive in the village, Blanca is still there: a spirited, funny, righteous ghost, she’s been hanging around the monastery since her accidental death, spying on the monks and the townspeople and keeping track of her descendants.
Stevens is brilliant at describing desire ... Employing an impossible narrator is one way to sidestep the pedantry that historical fiction can fall into. Nevertheless it’s jarring when Blanca describes herself as 'neurotic', and it’s unclear why she is not surrounded by other ghosts. Stevens is not a writer who worries about mechanics and fidelity to the historical account. Instead, she follows the story and what matters to the characters in it ... Much more than Stevens’s previous books, her novel makes space for the uncelebrated labour on which creativity depends ... Amélie the maid’s daily trials with this depressed animal are a subplot more striking than the composer’s familiar turmoil and bloody phlegm. With skill and insight, the novel follows Sand’s struggle to keep hold of her children, her romantic attachments, and her work, and shows that Chopin never faced the same difficult choices. It is telling that the gloves that protect the composer’s delicate fingers are made of kid.
Overall, the novel is an engaging re-imagining of the Mallorca episode of Sand and Chopin’s affair. It is also an examination of the different forms that love may take ... It’s a ghost story, yes, but there’s a good deal more to it than that.
Blanca has a very long memory, but her voice is fresh. She's often funny, sometimes enraged, full of longing—an all-too-human ghost ... She can access people's memories and see their futures, which helps to give the novel its structure, as the story moves between past and present ... an inventive, imaginative approach to historical fiction, full of comic moments but also sorrow, violence and beauty. If the novel's narrative drive is sometimes uneven, that's a small quibble. Blanca, though a ghost, is full of life, a wonderful guide to another time and place.