There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at the table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too. A few stale lessons from tired governesses, dull walk, unthinking pastimes. But it was not enough. All knowledge — any knowledge — called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen (p 7).
When Faith’s father, a famed archeologist, is accused of being a fraud and a fake, his family retreats from the society of Kent to the remote island of Vane under pretense of working on a dig. Faith, unsatisfied with simply following commands in a society that views women as intellectually inferior to men, pursues knowledge by whatever craft necessary.
When her father is found dead, most believe he committed suicide in disgrace. Faith knows her father better, she believes, and sets about solving his murder.
What she discovers is a small tree, sensitive to light, that feeds on lies and produces an odiferous fruit that, when eaten, sends one into a trance in which apparent truths are revealed. She also learns she is not the only person pursuing this tree and that the father she thought she knew was so very different that she ever imagined.
Set shortly after Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species, this Costa Book of the Year is a deft exploration of feminism, society, science and at its heart, father-daughter relationships. Kirkus calls it “thematically rich, stylistically impressive, absolutely unforgettable.” A treat. Highly recommended.