Only the wealthiest and most influential families can boast of having their own Grief Nurse. Shunned, feared, and revered in equal measure, Grief Nurses ensure their families are free of negative emotions, freeing them from sadness, anxiety, and heartache. Lynx is the Asters’ Grief Nurse, removing their Sorrow and replacing it with Bright. Taken as a child, she has known no other life.
But when the Asters’ eldest son dies and guests flock to Mount Sorcha for the wake, it isn’t just Sorrow that Sculptor Aster’s family feel. Sculptor, it seems, had his own Grief Nurse, and as the family battle over who will inherit her, old rivalries, petty jealousies, and new tensions threaten to dull the Asters’ Bright. And by the time the first body is discovered, Lynx and the Asters may already be out of their depth.
Angie Spoto‘s The Grief Nurse is a truly compelling debut, blending Gothic tropes with almost whodunit energy, as Lynx, the Asters, and a supporting cast of staff and guests struggle through the aftermath of Sculptor Aster’s death. As much a wry commentary on classism as it is an exploration of the many forms of grief, it is brimming with rich imagery, exciting plot twists, and devastating reveals.
Lynx, dipping in and out of people’s emotions as she works to restore their Bright, has huge potential as a lead. She has her own secrets to manage, and the arrival of both a new Grief Nurse and a potential murderer certainly doesn’t help matters. Spoto reveals Lynx’s own back story in increments, building her from the background servant and mere status symbol the Asters barely register her as, to a woman with a truly impressive power all of her own.
There’s a detachment to Lynx that – initially at least – makes her hard to really engage with. But it comes across as a way to survive, to remove her own emotions from the equation, and to protect herself from the glaring disparity in her relationship with the Asters. She is well dressed, well fed, and well cared for physically. But she’s also kept at a distance, used as a way to showcase the Asters’ power and influence, and, for the most part, she’s entirely unloved. To seem cold and indifferent is understandable, especially when you’re expected to take away everyone else’s negative emotions too.
Lynx’s descriptions of those emotions – what they look like, how it feels to take them on, and how they grow and change – reveal much about key characters and their motivations. Not only a showcase for some beautiful writing from Spoto, it’s also an inventive way to help readers, and Lynx herself, piece together the real story of what’s happening at Mount Sorcha. It’s a clever way to leave the isolation of the single location too, and reveal more of the world around the Asters’ estate.
The Grief Nurse is a stellar debut and, honestly, one of my favourite reads of the past few months. It’s inventive and beautifully written, musing on grief, isolation, and anger, set against a world that values only status and appearances.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Angie Spoto’s The Grief Nurse is out 13th April 2023 through Sandstone Press. Preorder a copy from Booktopia HERE.
Review copy supplied through NetGalley.