It’s 1941, the last summer of American innocence, and eighteen-year-old Lillie Carrigan is desperate to love and be loved, to lose her virginity, to experience her life’s great, epic romance. Preoccupied with whiskey and cigarettes, sex and Catholic guilt, Lillie unknowingly sets in motion events leading to death and estrangement from her two best friends. A decade on, Lillie is still haunted by the ghosts of that summer. Did she act solely out of youthful naivety and adolescent jealousy? Or perhaps there were darker forces at work: grief, guilt, sexual assault, and the double standards of her strict religious upbringing. Searching for patterns and meaning in the events of that year, and anxious to understand the person she has become, Lillie reflects on the darkness of her tarnished youth and confesses her sins.
18 February 2021 by Valley Press
‘Reminiscent of Plath’s The Bell Jar, this is an honest and moving tale of small-town American girls seeking love in the 1940s. Fresh, thought-provoking, and highly relevant, The Essence of an Hour is an impressive debut by any standards.’
Christine Dwyer Hickey, winner of the 2020 Walter Scott Prize for fiction
‘For fans of Sylvia Plath, a sensitive coming-of-age story that captures the constraints of time and place, suppressed desires, and the complexities around female friendship.’
J.M. Monaco, author, How We Remember
‘Lillie Carrigan, the main character in The Essence of an Hour by Susan Furber, tells her story with a voice that sparks like the click of a cigarette lighter. It’s 1941, Lillie is at her first college party – at the Yale Club, no less! – and tonight she’s determined to explore the mysteries of love, carnal and otherwise. Witty and deadpan honest, she tells us, “The party had been a failure. There was no way of salvaging it, no bright side to look on… Tomorrow I’d wake and think I was happy and alive, but the headache would creep in… I was new to drinking.” Though she doesn’t hear it yet, the reader does: a deep sadness lurking just below the surface of Lillie’s boundless curiosity. ‘The Essence of an Hour is the coming-of-age story of a young woman moving into the world as the world moves through World War II, which is to say that for Lillie and her crowd, innocence is dismantled too quickly, and wisdom is acquired at great cost. Furber has captured perfectly the texture and tone of the 1940s. This story, authentic to a bygone era, is also timeless in its accurate portrayal of a young woman’s journey into her own eager heart.’
Anna Monardo, author, The Courtyard of Dreams and Falling in Love with Natassia