A Perfect Square – Isobel Blackthorn

A psychological novel exploring lifelong female friendships as well as the complex relationships between mothers and daughters – with a dark undercurrent… 


A mother and daughter in Australia and a mother and daughter in England. What do they have in common apart from the fact that both daughters are back home after having broken up with their respective boyfriends? There are walls between the mothers and their daughters, especially between Ginny and her mother Harriet; they feel depressed by each other’s company. Somehow they are unable to leave the past behind and to cross the bridge between them.

What if they start an art project together? Harriet paints pictures and Ginny composes and plays piano music. Perhaps working on their project will bring them closer…


There are two mothers, one in England and one in Australia, both single parents with daughters, troubled by a previous relationship. The mothers are both painters and love their seclusion, now abruptly broken by the homecoming of their daughters. What can they do but open their homes and let them stay?

Even if the relationship between Judith and her daughter as well as the mother-daughter relationship between Harriet and Ginny is under a lot of strain, their daughters need a place to heal. There is resentment from the daughters but we do not fully comprehend the depth of it until much later. Both Judith and Harriet are struggling with their artistic capacities and somehow feel they are lacking something and are unable to find their true source of inspiration.

Meet 28-year-old Ginny, who has nowhere else to go but home. Temporarily, she thinks but is not sure as her whole life feels upside down. It is depressing to move back into your childhood rooms but what can you do when your boyfriend has successfully isolated you from almost all of your friends and stopped your academic career? Plus, Ginny simply has no idea what to do with her life.

She loved playing the piano, could have had a promising career but that was also blocked by her boyfriend. No wonder mother Harriet is glad the boyfriend is out of the picture, but she is not sure whether to be pleased for her daughter to come home because her presence seems to ‘loom’ in the house. Ginny has a way of disrupting Harriet’s life and artistic flow, making her question everything she believes in.

Harriet is inspired by the ancient astrologers, by the circle of the moon and her zodiac horoscope. She is imaginative up to being synaesthetic towards experiencing arts and thus is perceptive in seeing signs in all she encounters. Harriet firmly believes she is the product of what was laid out for her at her birth and that her life path has followed accordingly. Her artistic inspiration mainly comes from the 1920s with Kandinsky as one of her favourites.

She has painted a homage to Kandinsky when she was in her mid-twenties and this very painting is hanging over the pianola – Ginny’s preferred instrument. Now Ginny is challenging her beliefs in a circular Zodiac divided into twelve segments to form the perfect circle and questioning what lies at the very base of Harriet’s opinions.

Harriet knows Ginny is defying her but at the same time, the roots of doubt are unsettling and unnerving. Harriet has no idea how to react and dares not even think about what it could mean because she feels it is upsetting her carefully fabricated life wherein her actions are determined by the influences of the planets on her birth sign.

Is it a compromise that mother and daughter decide to start a project together? Harriet thinks it will help Ginny to get over her boyfriend and move forward. Ginny acquiesces because she feels she has no other choice and nothing better to do. Some paintings to go with the same number of piano pieces – that is what they aim at. The circles of the Moon they will base their artistic project on. Mother and daughter have endless arguments about the number of compositions before deciding on nine.

Nine Moon months – nine paintings – nine musical pieces. Ginny finds her inspiration for the music pretty soon but Harriet is in doubt. She is facing an existential crisis: her past is overshadowing the present and with that comes a feeling of never having been good enough. Harriet realises she has not produced one single original painting in years. Add that to Ginny’s resentment towards her mother and is it a wonder that Harriet is unable to find inspiration for her paintings?

On top of that Ginny, who feels her mother has abducted her, bears a grudge against her mother because of having been deprived of a father for all those years. Harriet refuses to talk about her father other than saying that he was a bad person who doted on his daughter. A loving father cannot be as evil as Harriet describes him to be in Ginny’s opinion.

My Thoughts

The theme of this psychological novel is the complex relationship between mothers and daughters but also lifelong female friendships. There are two mothers, one in England and one in Australia with daughters who are troubled by a previous relationship and who have come home to heal. The mothers are both painters and somehow at a stage in their career, where they lack the inspiration and creativity to move forward.

The daughters are like any young woman of their age: rebelling against their mothers who raised them as single parents. Both Harriet and Ginny have carefully fabricated the world they live in upon the beliefs they perceive as truth. Harriet has her astrology and worship for 1920s painters such as Kandinsky, Ginny her firm belief that growing up without her father deprived her of a part of herself: her comfortable paisley clothes are her safeguard and protection.

Where the story is about Ginny and Harriet it is interesting and insightful, for me, the added wide-ranging themes are a bit too much and overshadow the mother-daughter relationship which in itself is dramatic, especially since you only really grasp what is going on at the end.

I wanted to shake Harriet for speaking about Ginny’s father the way she does while at the same time refusing to say anything more: no wonder Ginny, being the susceptible young woman she is,  is intrigued. As for Ginny, she has created a world based on a fairy tale and at 28 you should think that she needs to realise the world outside is nothing like her fantasy.

In my opinion, both mother and daughter needed to grow up. Whether they did is something for you to decide after reading this novel!

About the Author

Isobel Blackthorn Author Image

Isobel Blackthorn was born in Kent and lived in England, Spain and the Canary Islands before settling down in Australia, near Melbourne.  She has a PhD in Western Esotericism, a diploma in Transpersonal Counselling and she is a qualified Astrologer. She has written for several journals and websites around the world, including Paranoia Magazine, Mused Literary Review and On Line Opinion. She also gives workshops in creative writing and writes book reviews.

A Perfect Square is, in the author’s own words, “a work of literary fiction based loosely on ideas contained in my doctoral thesis, ideas developed by my daughter, pianist Elizabeth Blackthorn in her Honours dissertation in music (University of Melbourne).”

Book Info

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 Pages  372
 Publisher  Indep. Pub (3 Aug 2020)
 ISBN (paperback)  9788672070803
 ASIN (e-book)  B08F6Y3M15

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