Two cousins grow up in the 1860s on a lonely farm in the thirsty mountain veld. Em is fat, sweet and contented, a born housewife; Lyndall, clever, restless, beautiful . . . and doomed. Their childhood is disrupted by a bombastic Irishman, Bonaparte Blenkins, who gains uncanny influence over the girls' gross, stupid stepmother . . . This novel is one of the most astonishing, least-expected fiction masterpieces of its time and one that has had an enduring influence.