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Ellis, Alice Thomas

(British, 1932–2005)

Ellis is best known for witty, compact novels satirizing middle-class ideals and family life, as in The Sineater (1977) which explores a family's hypocrisies and conflicts as it gathers to await the death of the father. Ellis grew up in Wales as a Roman Catholic, and Christian and Celtic myth is an important undercurrent in her novels, which are otherwise contemporary and realist. The divine or mythical tend to represent supernatural forces which are always more powerful than the fashionable or narrow concerns of her characters. Ancient fairytale forces challenge contemporary ‘back to nature’ romanticism in Fairytale (1990) where Simon and Eloise reject their city lifestyle for a rural idyll in Wales. The sinister and mysterious also work beneath surface events in The Inn at the Edge of the World (1990) where five city dwellers are thrown together on a remote Scottish island, all escaping the trials of a modern Christmas.

The Birds of the Air (1980) is set over a Christmas holiday when the Marsh family gather following the death of Mary Marsh's son. Ellis's observation of a middle-class Christmas draws out the comic elements of family tragedy, yet her spare, lyrical style offers an intense and vivid viewpoint on a mother's grief. This subtle balance between the comic and tragic is at its best in Ellis's The Summer House TrilogyThe Clothes in the Wardrobe (1987), The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1988) and The Fly in the Ointment (1989), which offers three characters’ quite different viewpoints on an impending family marriage (translated to film under the first title).

Muriel Spark, Fay Weldon, Beryl Bainbridge  DJ

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Co-Fi)