The epigraph of Louisa Morgan’s The Ghosts of Beatrice Bird comes from Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a chamber—to be haunted— / One need not be a House— / The Brain—has Corridors surpassing / Material Place—”. This brief passage beautifully encompasses the novel’s core idea, that plumbing the depths of one’s past trauma can reveal, and hopefully abolish, the shades that haunt us all.
Dr. Beatrice Bird is quite happy being alone. Self-isolated on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest in 1977, she takes care of simple things in her small cottage. She milks the cows the previous owner left behind. She watches the shoreline. She picks up groceries when they come over on the ferry. She misses her partner, Mitch, whom she left behind in San Francisco.
But Beatrice’s solitude keeps the ghosts at bay.
She sees them whenever she encounters another person: Their fears, pains and shames orbit grimly around them where only Beatrice can see. When a young woman named Anne Iredale arrives on the island to escape her own past, Beatrice senses a kindred spirit and offers to take her in. A psychologist by trade, Beatrice slowly uncovers Anne’s story. But the ghosts that haunt Anne are some of the foulest Beatrice has ever seen. Can she and Anne heal enough to banish the ghosts once and for all?
This book has a healer’s heart, revolving around Morgan’s inquisitive, sensitive and measured look at trauma. Yes, ghosts are present and yes, they do inject tension, but they’re used more as conduits for the real work of psychological examination. As Morgan jumps between both women’s perspectives, including some flashbacks to key moments before the island, the reader feels as if they’re putting together the pieces alongside Beatrice as she helps Anne start her healing journey. Morgan knows how to let a conversation develop slowly, and Beatrice and Anne’s friendship blooms at the same natural pace. Trust is earned, truths are confessed and time passes. No one can rush someone like Anne into a breakthrough. It has to happen naturally.
The importance of women healing other women appears in many of Morgan’s other novels (The Great Witch of Brittany, The Age of Witches), and The Ghosts of Beatrice Bird is an especially kind and empathetic expression of the same theme. Though Beatrice sets out to help Anne, Anne inevitably helps Beatrice. Pain is wiped clean by understanding, like a gust of air off the ocean. Find a comfy seat and settle in. You’ll be glad you did.