Bernardine Bishop’s first novel in fifty years, Unexpected Lessons in Love, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award in 2013, shortly after Bishop died from cancer. A great-granddaughter of the writer and suffragist Alice Meynell and educated at Newnham College in Cambridge, Bishop published two novels in her early twenties, then gave up writing for teaching, marriage (twice) and children, and eventually a distinguished career as a psychotherapist before cancer necessitated premature retirement. Believing her cancer had gone, Bishop returned to storytelling, eager to do something with the life she had reclaimed from illness. The result was Unexpected Lessons in Love, in which the central character is a retired psychotherapist coping with a colostomy after surgery for anal cancer. Witty, original and empathetic, the novel explores many forms of love, most particularly the maternal bond, but what gripped readers was Bishop’s candid discussion of physical issues, from the pros and cons of the opaque colostomy bag to the perplexities of sex after radical surgery.
While Unexpected Lessons in Love is essentially a joyful novel, illuminated by generosity and a tender vision of human possibilities, Hidden Knowledge, the second of the three books written during this fruitful period, is a more sombre work. Drawing on Bishop’s experience as an analyst, it investigates what she described