The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood opens with a scene where a crow walks into a kitchen. It happens in an instant, the back door having been opened to let the smoke from burnt toast dissipate. It’s enough to rattle the woman whose kitchen it is, and suggest that, even without being superstitious, things are off-kilter here.
What has happened to Cornelia Blackwood?
She has a loving marriage. But she has no friends.
Everyone knows her name. But no one will speak to her now.
Cornelia Blackwood has unravelled once before. Can she stop it from happening again?
When we meet forty-year-old Cornelia, she’s about to wave her husband off to a conference. She’s also gearing up to go back to work part-time after an unknown incident left her in severe pain, yet still able to manage without a walking stick unless she overdoes it. Life seems to have dealt her a hard blow and we spend the book discovering just how much of one, and what further loss and shock can do to someone in an already fragile state of mind.
By switching between two timelines labelled only as Now and Then in the chapter headings, Susan Elliot Wright’s novel illustrates not only how quickly someone’s life can turn but also how difficult it can be for people to know what others are going through as a result of those changes, or how to reach out and help them in the way they need. Something made all the more challenging when dealing with someone as intelligent and private a person as Cornelia. She becomes well-practised at hiding what she’s doing and being secretive, something facilitated by her current situation and how much time she spends on her own.
Cornelia shares characteristics with the crows which are a recurring motif in the book. Intelligent and independent, crows mate for life, and can be quiet and secretive when close to home. I’d argue that although not outwardly raucous as the birds are, Cornelia’s mind is far from quiet: her thoughts crash around and run out of control, clinging to the most fragile support and building a real sense of there being no escape for her. With each further misstep and unsaid truth, this claustrophobic feeling builds until she’s entangled like a bird in netting and you wonder how she will ever break free.
When she does, it is both poignant and distressing in its inevitability yet absolutely right for the story.
In writing so incredibly well about the loss and loneliness Cornelia experiences, Susan Elliot Wright takes us to a darker and rarely discussed aspect of motherhood and mental illness. She handles her subject with great skill and sensitivity, making The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood a truly moving and powerful book.
The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliot Wright is published by Simon & Schuster. It is available as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive which supports your local independent bookshop. For more information on Susan Elliot Wright and her books, visit her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review.