Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Talking to the Dead” as Want to Read:
Talking to the Dead
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Talking to the Dead

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  855 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
Praised by critics on both sides of the Atlantic for its elegant and sensuous prose, "Talking to the Dead" tells the story of two sisters whose lives are bound by the hidden and surprising truth about the long-ago death of their infant brother.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by Back Bay Books (first published 1996)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Talking to the Dead, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Talking to the Dead

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Helen Dunmore has long been one of my favourite authors and, with the sad news of her death this year (2017) I wanted to go back to the first of her novels which I read. Published in 1996, this is the fourth of her novels, but the first which I came across and which introduced me to her work.

This novel is set within the heat of summer. Nina is a photographer in London, but she visits the countryside to stay with her sister, Isabel, who has recently had a baby. The birth has not gone as expected
May 11, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Unfortunately this book was not as suspenseful and drama filled as the synopsis would have one believe. It was actually kind of flat. There were some interesting things happening in the story but Dunmore failed to make me really care. It was all rather boring.

The story is told through the first person perspective of Nina. Nina character could have been interesting but she failed to connect to me. I wanted her to be interesting and exciting but she was as boring as the drama and suspense that was
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two sisters with a secret.
I was hooked from the start.
Very compelling story of love and how people remember things differently.
What really happened to Colin?
Set in a heatwave .
Nina comes to look after her older sister Isabel after the birth of her first child.
Things aren't quite as they seem as the past comes back to haunt Isabel.
This darkly strange psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat as it reaches its dramatic conclusion.
Beautifully written.
I loved it.
Read for a group
Anneliese Tirry
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Prachtig en vlot lezend boek dat je bij de hand neemt en niet meer los laat tot aan de laatste pagina.
Het boek vertelt over de relatie tussen twee zussen, hun kindertijd, hun geheimen, hun verre herinneringen en het ultieme offer.
De beschrijvingen in dit boek zijn zeer beeldend - een film rolt zich af voor je ogen - zelden las ik zo'n mooie beschrijvingen van rijp fruit (vijgen!), of over het maken van wilde zalm in hollandaisesaus. Maar het boek is véél meer dan dat en laat me achter met een on
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: discuss-it
Isabel and Nina are sisters. When Nina was young, Isabel looked after her devotedly. Now Isabel needs help and Nina tries to provide it. Complicating the sisters' relationship are Richard, Isabel's husband, Edward, Isabel's gay friend, and Colin, Isabel and Nina's brother, who died as a baby.
I enjoyed this book very much. It has enough mystery behind the scenes to add suspense and the characters of Isabel and Nina are beautifully drawn, making the interactions between them believable and the eve
Jayaram Vengayil
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book in a fascinating, one stretch read drawn into its spell by a web of mesmeric images. Dunmore excels at uncovering the dark side in relationships among family members. The haunting word pictures she paints of the human mindscape mark her out to be a writer of no mean abilities. I only wish I had discovered this author earlier.
Roger Brunyate
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sibling Rivalry

Isabel has just had her first baby, after a difficult delivery. Nina, a freelance photographer, comes to spend time with her sister at her house in England's South Downs, but almost immediately begins an intense sexual affair with Isabel's husband. It is Nina who tells the story; she is a warm sympathetic character while Isabel seems moody and neurotic; and the sexual descriptions are terrific. All the same, there is clearly something wrong in this family portrait, and Dunmore is
Nov 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helen Dunmore is a prolific and award winning author, yet this is only the fourth of her novels I have read. I now think I really must make an effort to read the rest. This 1996 novel is an impressive family drama with a fascinating psychological slant.
Dunmore’s excellent writing, with its sultry descriptions of place, draws the reader into the Sussex countryside during a scorching summer, and the lives of a group of rather unlikeable characters. There is a kind of chilly sensuality too in the
Jun 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: gluttons for punishment
This is a terrible book about terrible people who do terrible, nonsensical, and incredible -- and I mean really not credible -- things to themselves, each other and other people. Yet it's all so beautifully described! You just want to go on reading it no matter what, just so you can stay in this garden with these flowers and this hot summer sun, and all this beautiful food.

But before you know it, several hours of your life have been devoured. Then at the end, if you are anything like me, you are
Apr 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I don't often mistakenly re-read a book. But it seems that I have done so with two Helen Dunmore books. I can't understand why, as both were excellent and very memorable. But, as with A spell of Winter, I realized about a third of the way through that I had read it before. However, I couldn't remember the end, and in fact, it didn't seem familiar towards the end so perhaps I never finished it - also unusual for me.

Anyway, it was very enjoyable. Dunmore has an amazing ability to describe things
Sandra Lawson
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helen Dunmore never fails to disappoint. She has a way with words and makes you believe you are inside the narrative and able to experience the sensations she evokes. I can always feel, taste, smell and hear a Dunmore novel.

Talking to the Dead is filled with tension and an awareness that something unpleasant will be revealed. The story unfolds through the filter of Nina, the younger of two sisters, who relates in the present tense, adding to the immediacy of the narrative. Although the perspecti
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
so far so good
A short book
has made me think a lot about family/sister relationships.I have cried reading because it reminded me of how traumatised i was staying with my sister after she had had a casarean.

My favourite style of book:when very important,life changing things happen but they are just dealt with as if they and normal, everyday occurences.
Amy Meyer
Mar 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Helen Dunmore has written a riveting story about two sisters and the ties that bond them as well as drive them apart. Isabel and Nina were very close growing up, maybe too close. They know each other better than they know themselves. A painful tragedy in their childhood caused both of them, but especially Nina, to push the past away, choosing to forget much of it. But the difficult delivery and birth of Isabel's first child and the memories that come back to Nina while she is staying under Isabe ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On the surface, Nina and Isabel appear to be like many close sisters, finishing each others thoughts and sentences and, above all else, fiercely loyal, despite many betrayals over the course of their relationship, big and little. After Isabel's difficult birth of her first child, Nina, a traveling freelance photographer, goes to her older sister's aid at her country house outside of Brighton, England. There the past confronts the sister's as waves crashing on the shore as they struggle through t ...more
Ant Koplowitz
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I’m not too sure how to construct a review of Helen Dunmore’s Talking to the Dead (1996), except to say that for a so-called ‘literary author’ (whatever that means) it was well-structured, with a forceful narrative that kept you turning the pages. Isabel and Nina are sisters, living an enmeshed life ever since the death of their baby brother, Colin, when he was a few months old. Now adults, the story describes the elaborate dance and rituals of their relationship immediately after the birth of I ...more
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
When I was reading some of the other reviews, I came across one where the person had either read the book before, or she thought she had started it but never finished it. I almost fell on the floor! The same thing happened to me! I actually read this one and totally forgot it and read it again! I kept feeling like I knew the story, but couldn't remember until I would read each part and then I would know I had read it before. Strange! The story explores the relationship between two sisters and ho ...more
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This story of two sisters reunited when one of them has her first child had me on the edge of my seat. The author sets a dark and delicious hook in the opening scene (*minor spoiler alert*) with a flash forward to one sister visiting the other’s grave, and then reels out the main story resurrecting several skeletons in the family closet over just a few tense days. As the household maintains a thin veneer of normality, intense emotions and dark truths rooted in long entanglements and shared memor ...more
George King
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'd never read Dunmore before. This novel is a psychological thriller with some nice poetic passages. It explores a mystery from two sisters' childhood and the relationship of the two women as adults. The narrative moves along rapidly, and the author's use of language is at times exquisite. There are also some notably frank sexual passages. The denouement didn't blow me away quite as much as I thought it would.
Chris Cloake
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the pace of this novel. The flashbacks help build the story as you learn why the characters are gathered for something monumental. You have to think the emotions through and I enjoyed that process. A little too much detail relating to food, I couldn't quite understand the relevance. An ideal read for anyone who wonders or reminisces about their childhood and siblings.
Ana Hays McCracken
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book and how Helen created a slow, quiet foreboding. It also interested me because the story is about remembering, and how people remember differently, and how secrets can destroy families.Her descriptives are spot on - so good, I could feel the heat of the summer the story takes place. And I can only hope to write metaphors like Helen.
Jun 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Superb book. Delicately structured. Intense. Powerful. The underplay of how more powerful personalities play situations to suit themselves - sometimes with very little understanding of the consequences of hurt and guilt. Quite brilliant.
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wonderful read, engrossing story, lyrical language, great characters, loved it so much I read it in a day.
Aug 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Dark and strange, but absolutely captivating.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Amazing writing; the story is dark and lacks much light but it draws you in.
May 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
heat, sensuality, cooking, food, mystery, glorious language, like wading through cool water on a hot day
Abigail Hillinger
Dec 02, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blech
Another classroom read. I read it, predicted everything about to happen, and almost immediately forgot about it after class discussion. I don't really understand what the fuss is about it.
Mar 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
One heck of a writer! Helen Dunmore's darkly beautiful stories are well-crafted works.
Lola Et La Vie
I bought this book many years ago because of its beautiful cover and can I just say that without its dust jacket the book is still so so pretty!

I finally picked it up to read it and it has been an easy enough read and there were aspects I really enjoyed. I love the author's prose and how natural the words seem to flow. Her descriptions of food especially make your mouth water! 

All the characters are very human, with flaws and fears and desires. 

The story is told from Nina's viewpoint and we foll
Melyssa Williams
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is my first novel by Dunmore, and I can see why she has built a following and accumulated awards for her writing. It's fast-paced and well-structured and hard to walk away from. This is a smallish book: in my particular edition the margins are large, so you'll be turning pages quickly. I finished it in one afternoon. The characters are deeply unlikable, but somehow you get pulled into their drama. The descriptions of all the food is amazing. There is a lot of graphic sex, so I wouldn't reco ...more
Hilary Campbell
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that is hard to put down - and I pretty much read it in one evening. I was going to say that I devoured it - and that does feel appropriate for a story that is about appetites - for food, art, love, human contact. it is also about jealousy, lust, greed and control. Gripping and powerful, with an enigmatic ending.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Private Papers
  • Wives of the Fishermen
  • Small Ceremonies
  • Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered
  • You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together
  • The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read: and Other Stories
  • A Fire in My Hands
  • The Witch of Exmoor
  • Aavikon tyttäret
  • Some Things Are Scary
  • Was It Beautiful?
  • Serpent Never Sleeps
  • I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told
  • Paw Tracks at Owl Cottage
  • The Hidden Stars (Rune of Unmaking #1)
  • The Troll Queen
  • The Face of the Assassin
  • Whalesong (Whalesong, #1)
I was born in December 1952, in Yorkshire, the second of four children. My father was the eldest of twelve, and this extended family has no doubt had a strong influence on my life, as have my own children. In a large family you hear a great many stories. You also come to understand very early that stories hold quite different meanings for different listeners, and can be recast from many viewpoints ...more
More about Helen Dunmore...

Fiction Deals

  • War Brides
    $3.99 $2
  • Bluebeard
    $8.99 $1.99
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad
    $10.74 $2.99
  • Orphan Train Girl
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Want Not
    $14.95 $2.99
  • Finding Rebecca
    $5.49 $1.99
  • The Baker's Daughter
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson)
    $2.99 $0.99
  • The Twelve-Mile Straight
    $14.99 $2.99
  • The Long Way Home
    $3.99 $1.99
  • The Cafe by the Sea
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Everybody's Son
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Restaurant Critic's Wife
    $3.99 $2
  • The Word Game
    $3.99 $1.99
  • Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer
    $10.74 $1.99
  • Cats Are Weird: And More Observations
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Lace Makers of Glenmara
    $6.99 $1.99
  • The Wake Up
    $4.99 $2
  • The Way to London: A Novel of World War II
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Abby's Journey
    $3.99 $1.99
  • Ask the Dust
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Kings of Broken Things
    $3.99 $1.99
  • The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Saving Abby
    $3.99 $1.99
  • Vanessa and Her Sister
    $13.99 $2.99
  • The King's Mistress
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Midnight Sun (The Northern Lights Series, No 3)
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Cement Garden (Ian McEwan Series Book 2)
    $8.99 $2.99
  • The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Under the Wide and Starry Sky
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
    $14.95 $1.99
  • The Cove
    $7.49 $1.99
  • The Secret Healer (The Secret Healer #1)
    $3.49 $0.99
  • Fat Chance
    $3.99 $1.99
  • Jailbird
    $8.99 $1.99
  • The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
    $15.95 $1.99
  • Mrs. Saint and the Defectives
    $3.99 $1.99
  • The Fire by Night
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Chronicle in Stone
    $18.99 $1.99
  • Bagombo Snuff Box
    $8.99 $1.99
  • If I Was Your Girl
    $9.99 $2.99