Matters of the Heart


460 pages
ISBN 0-7710-8677-6




Madeleine J. Bailey was the College Librarian in the Learning Resources Centre at Mount Royal College in Calgary.


Charlotte Vale Allen’s twenty-third book, a psychological study of a woman and her effect on the lives of her daughter and granddaughter, opens in the wartime Britain of the 1940s. It follows Frances Holden’s precarious path between madness and sanity. The events of the killing of a man with whom she is obsessed haunt her for 20 years until her granddaughter is psychically driven to put Frances’s mind finally at rest.

While the blockbuster-style cover and title belie the depth of Allen’s writing, the novel has problems. Its strength lies in the early portrayal of the obsessive Frances, living in wartime Britain, although occasional jarring notes in the English idiom hinder believability. When the story progresses to the United States, and to her relationship with daughter Hadleigh (why must women of this genre have such unlikely names?), the momentum is weakened and the focus scattered, although Allen is patently more comfortable with the American setting and dialogue. Also unsatisfactory is her tendency to dismiss the male characters after their usefulness to the plot has been served — an ironic mirror of the treatment they are accused of inflicting on the women throughout the book.

The cyclical nature of personality flaws that almost destroy mother, then daughter, while an interesting idea, makes the plot predictable. To escape from the cycle of mental instability and alcoholism, Allen uses the psychic granddaughter as a dea ex machina, at which point the psychology, essentially believable in earlier chapters, becomes improbable. Were the novel half the length, one would not feel so cheated at the frantic tying of loose ends after 500 pages.

The novel nevertheless has all the hallmarks of a successful television mini-series.


Allen, Charlotte Vale, “Matters of the Heart,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,