Victoria and Albert Museum

The world’s greatest museum of art and design

Opening times

10.00 to 17.45 daily
10.00 to 22.00 Fridays

The Absent Woman

The Absent Woman

Virginia Johnstone doesn't need a rest, she needs a change; not comfort, but purpose. Divorced, and a visitor in her children's lives, she decides to leave Seattle and spend three months in the harbor town of Hilliard. There, on the edge of Puget Sound, she sublets rooms in an old hotel, rooms belonging to a woman who has vanished without explanation. In search of someone who can take her piano-playing to the next level, Virginia encounters Twilah Chan, an inspiring teacher and disturbing presence. Twilah's son, Greg, an exciting but also disturbing presence, re-awakens Virginia's romantic life. When she discovers a connection between the absent woman of the old hotel, Twilah, and Greg, she must decide whether to pursue the uncertain course she has set for herself or return to the safety of Seattle.

In a novel which is both elegiac and passionate, insightful and wryly humorous, Marlene Lee explores the need for change and the emotional consequences of leaving an old life in order to embrace a new one.

Ken Dawson worked to a tight brief with both publisher and author: the room was selected; the piano placed in it; the woman placed at the piano, then all but her outline was removed. The result: a startlingly simple yet poignant evocation of the story.

The Absent Woman