Tough describing this one without giving too much away, but here goes. Thirty-two year old Agatha has buried her mother (following her death, that is), then finds herself alone in the world. Anti-social as the two always were, they had no friends and few relatives. Bumbling around the house alone, Agatha finds herself alone and lonely, 'til one day she thinks back to her childhood, when she had an imaginary playmate named Clarissa.
What if, she thinks, she summons her former playmate back? She'd have someone to talk to, someone to stroll with in the gardens, a way to fill her long, dark days. She begins by roaming the house, quietly calling Clarissa's name. When nothing happens she says it more loudly, the servants assuming she's in the grip of grief for her mother, and not that she's completely lost her mind. Never mind her mother's name wasn't Clarissa...
One day, during a stroll in the garden, she sees little footprints, the size a girl the age of Clarissa may have left. Next she catches glimpses of her, ghostly images just out of her peripheral vision. It's her former playmate, back to make mischief.
As time goes on Clarissa becomes more real. From her ghost-like apparition she becomes solid, 'til eventually others can see her, too. To explain her, Agatha claims her as her love-child, though if she had been pregnant an given birth you think someone would have noticed. Ah, but never mind!
Clarissa, a tiny slip of a thing, beautiful and fairy-like, makes friends with children her age who live nearby. Agatha looks on, all the while showering Clarissa with gifts and the love a mother shows a child.
And... Nope, no more! That's enough to whet the appetite for this gothic-inspired, totally original tale. It also has enough darkness not to be treacly, yet a sweetness and fairy tale quality that's charming.
Many thanks to Simon from Stuck in a Book for having sent this gem to me years ago - I'm ashamed to think how many! Being laid up with my sore knee finally afforded me the chance to read it. It's a tough one to get hold of, but if you'll have your library do a worldwide search (mine can, and I assume many others have the capability) you may be able to lay hands on it. And it's well worth it.
It even ends in a way I approve of! Rare, but it happens. Love the creepiness of the last scene...
High recommendations for The Love-Child.