In her debut novel, Briefly, a Delicious Life, Nell Stevens imagines what happened in the winter of 1838–9, when Frédéric Chopin and George Sand stayed together in a Mallorcan monastery. This premise is made even more tantalising by the presence of a passionate, resentful ghost called Blanca, the novel’s narrator, who lives in the monastery and ends up falling in love with Sand. The narrative switches between 1838–9, Blanca’s troubled earthly life and Sand’s past, drawing parallels between Blanca’s doomed affair with a novice and Sand’s struggle for self-expression in uptight high society.
Stevens is adept at exploring the unconventionalities of Sand, who ‘dressed like a man, kissed like a man, smoked like a man’, and her relationship with ‘pallid, red-eyed’ Chopin. The narrator-as-ghost is an original device to draw attention to the sensuality of memory, too. The constant shifts between