I had to think on this book for a while before I wrote this as it is very much a multi-layered book. There is the plot, the things that happen. However these things are not as important as the way the characters perceive them and feel about them; Bishop's writing is such that you get a front row seat into this. It is not like you are at the movie watching events unfold. You are within the character and feeling it unfold, getting an idea of what it feels like within. It is much more of an intense experience of being with the character, it goes much further than evoking empathy.
It is one of those stories that made me question what is bequeathed us by our parents and our family? Can we ever truly escape it? Is it inevitable that we eventually turn into one of our parents? And if that is the case, do we get to chose which one? These questions are much more pointed because of the opposing psychological and emotional states of Stella's parents.
The event that precipitated Leon's descent into madness is less important than the descent itself (I use the term madness very loosely here). Also the fact that, while Frances probably tried harder to hold on to her bond with Leon, it was Stella who was able to maintain it more effortlessly despite herself. Bishop's writing is beautiful in places and was really evocative of this. She allowed the reader a gentle slide into Leon's disordered way of thinking through his internal dialogues as well as those with his family, mainly Stella.
The novel also addresses how children may react, or act out, in the face of a parent's descent into disorder (I think that is a much better term than madness), not just how one might react emotionally.
I enjoyed this book. The three characters (there really are only three that are explored in any great depth) are interesting and I grew attached to them all. I can't really say that I disliked any of them. Sometimes I wondered why they were doing the things they were, but Bishop always drew this out, slowly and gently without bashing either the reader or the characters over the head. I would class it as an emotional drama and I really enjoyed the places that the characters took me.