Day 1187: Edgar & Lucy

Cover for Edgar & LucyBefore I start my review, I realized I forgot to check the spin number on Friday morning. It seems as if Classics Club always picks the number for the most obscure book on my list. This time, I get to read Le Morte D’Arthur.

* * *

Best of Five!
Eight-year-old Edgar has no idea about the terrible events that took place when he was a baby. He lives with his mother, Lucy, and his grandmother Florence, who tells him innocuous lies about Frank, his father and her son.

Lucy and Florence have not been getting along lately. Lucy, still traumatized by her husband’s death, has been drinking too much and seeing men, when old-fashioned Florence would like her to be a perpetual widow. But Florence dies, and a series of misunderstandings and accidents at the time of her death place Edgar in danger.

Although I wouldn’t describe Edgar & Lucy as a thriller, it kept me pinned to the page much like a good thriller would, and the novel has some thriller-like plot characteristics. But really, it is a thorough examination of several characters under trying circumstances. And one of them is a ghost.

This novel is highly unusual. At times, it is almost meditative while at other times it reveals its characters’ minds as almost hallucinogenically original. If you decide to read it, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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Day 1144: The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Cover for The Victorian Chaise LongueThe Victorian Chaise-Longue is a short little tale of the macabre in honor of the season. Its plot is simple.

Wealthy Melanie Langdon is recovering from tuberculosis, complicated by recent child birth. When she is finally recovered enough, she is carried to lie on a Victorian chaise-longue that she bought in an antique store. There she falls asleep.

When Melanie awakens, she has returned to Victorian times and is locked in a Victorian body. When she is alarmed at her situation, she is thought to be hysterical.

logo for RIPI did not find the novel terrifying, but perhaps that is my own lack of imagination. I felt I needed to care for the character more before she was put in her dilemma. I understand from the introduction that Laski moved to a remote house to induce in herself a sense of fear, just to write this novel.

This is the final book I read for the R.I.P. challenge. Happy Halloween!

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Day 1013: Mystery in White

Cover for Mystery in WhiteI have made it a tradition the past few years to review a Dickens Christmas story at Christmas time. We moved in October, though, so I have not yet unearthed my collection of Dickens Christmas stories. Wanting to read something seasonal, I settled on Mystery in White, which is set on Christmas Eve and Day and is also a sort of ghost story, which fits my tradition.

A heavy snowfall halts a trainful of people on their way to various Christmas gatherings. They are sitting there wondering how long they’ll be stuck when an older man, Mr. Maltby, a psychic researcher, abruptly leaves the train to walk to another station.

This action inspires a group of young people to follow him. They are a brother and sister, David and Lydia Carrington; a chorus girl, Jessie Noyes; and a young clerk, Robert Thomson. The only passenger from their car who stays is a blowhard.

Shortly after leaving the train, the party loses Mr. Maltby’s path and gets into difficulties in the snow. Luckily, they eventually find a house, but it has been left in a strange condition. The front door is unlocked, water is on the boil, tea is prepared, but no one is in the house.

Feeling they have no choice but to take shelter, the four make themselves at home. Jessie has sprained her ankle and Mr. Thomson becomes very ill. Mr. Maltby soon appears with another man, and the blowhard shows up. Soon, some of the party begin to feel uncomfortable in the house. Mr. Maltby is certain that something unpleasant has happened there, and the party soon learns that there was a murder on the train.

I have recently read several John Bude mysteries from the same period, and I admit to preferring Farjeon. He spends a lot more time with his characters instead of creating elaborate puzzles. I found this novel a pleasant way to spend a chilly December evening.

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Day 1006: The Vanishing

Cover for The VanishingJulia Bishop is a recent widow whose husband bilked people out of millions of dollars before killing himself. Now Julia finds herself in a difficult position. Her friends have all dropped her, assuming she knew what her husband was doing, and some of his victims have threatened to sue her.

Adrian Sinclair comes to her with a solution. He would like to hire her as a companion for his mother, who lives on a secluded estate near Lake Superior. She would disappear completely, and if she wanted to emerge later, he would provide her with a new identity. Julia accepts his offer and finds as an added attraction that his mother is Amaris Sinclair, the famous horror writer, long thought dead.

Julia feels at home at Havenwood from the moment of arriving, but something odd is going on. The figures in the paintings seem to move, and she hears childish singing in some of the rooms. Also, someone seems to have followed her there.

I read this book because it promised to be a page-turning ghost story, but I found myself disappointed. For one thing, Julia’s reactions to things seem all wrong. First, she accepts a plan to disappear without a trace from a man she’s never met before. Then, there’s a whole lot of chuckling going on, even at the most inopportune moments. I confess to having seldom heard anyone chuckle, and yet someone does so on almost every page. Julia is oddly undisturbed by the most fantastic occurrences.

The writing is hackneyed and the dialogue is downright dull. There is no sparkling wit in this novel. And let’s face it, the scary parts aren’t scary.

There are a couple of clever twists at the end of the novel, but the more I thought about the last one, the less sense it made. On the one hand, it seemed a master stroke, creating doubt about everything that came before. On the other hand, it was impossible.

I know that Webb’s first novel was very popular. Maybe it was better. I, for one, won’t be finding out.

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Day 999: Beloved

Cover for BelovedOn some occasions after reading a novel, I find my thoughts about it are not clear. Did I enjoy it? Did I completely understand it? Did I think it was powerful or overpowering? This doesn’t happen very often, but these are my thoughts after reading Beloved.

The novel, when looked at straightforwardly, is a ghost story. Sethe escaped from slavery with her children, although the plan went wrong. Most of the other escaping slaves were killed or captured, including her husband, and Sethe had to come later, giving birth to her daughter Denver on the way.

These events happened 16 years ago, but shortly after Sethe made it across the Ohio River, Schoolteacher, the despotic overseer, came after her. To keep her children from being dragged back into slavery, Sethe decided to kill them. She was stopped, but not before she slit the throat of her daughter, Beloved. (Her name isn’t really Beloved, but that’s what’s on her tombstone; we don’t know her name.)

Sixteen years later, Sethe’s house in Cincinnati, referred to as 124, is haunted. Sethe lives there with Denver, her mother-in-law having died and her sons having left. Denver is a sulky, needy young woman who craves her mother’s attention, but that is all for the ghost of her baby.

The action begins when Paul D. arrives. Paul D. had been one of the young male slaves at Sweet Home, where Sethe was a slave. He has been wandering since the war. When he realizes the house is haunted, he drives the ghost out and lives with Sethe as her lover.

But Beloved comes back, now embodied as a girl the age she would have been if she’d lived. Denver and then Sethe become enslaved to her.

But is Beloved a ghost or just a young girl damaged by slavery? Someone in the text makes a reference to a lost girl enslaved since a child, and I think that’s who Beloved is meant to be. Denver and Sethe have just mistaken her from their own needs. There is only one chapter where we see things from Beloved’s point of view, and it is incoherent.

That is what I think, but I was confused because everyone else seems to take the novel as a straight ghost story and of course, an indictment of slavery. I finally ran across a reference to an article by an academic who believes the same thing, but I never found the original paper.

In any case, Beloved is an unusual work. It uses an unusual combination of storytelling techniques, some of which I enjoyed and some I did not. It is powerful, depicting emotions and events that we can barely comprehend. Did I like it? I don’t know. Does it make me think? Yes. Do I understand it? Not completely.

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Day 986: The Lost Boy

Cover for The Lost BoyI’ve been inconsistent in reading Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka series, mostly because I realize they are not actually very well written. Läckberg still has trouble producing anything resembling snappy dialogue, and her writing is cliché-ridden. (At least her characters have stopped slapping their foreheads.) Still, she manages to come up with some fairly inventive plots, and her main characters, Patrik Hedström and his wife Erica Falck, are likable and appealing.

I liked The Lost Boy a little less than I have some of Läckberg’s other novels, even though it features ghosts, which is usually a plus. I think one reason is that a major plot point is telegraphed by the title. What is supposed to be a big surprise at the end was something I guessed very early on.

Nathalie has undergone some traumatic experience. We don’t know what it is, but it involves blood. She has fled with her son Sam to an island off Fjällbacka that is owned by her family. It is called Gräskär, but the locals call it Ghost Island.

Nathalie’s high school boyfriend Matte has also returned to the area. When he hears Nathalie is there, he takes a trip out to the island. Nathalie feels reassured by his presence, and they spend the night together. When she awakens, he is gone. A few days later, he’s found shot to death in his apartment.

Patrik is back to work after health problems and the funeral of Erica’s sister Anne’s baby. Erica is coping with newborn twins, Anne’s own children, and Anne’s depressed withdrawal.

In Denmark a woman is in hiding from her abusive husband. Slowly, the police discover possible links between Matte’s previous work for a women’s refuge and his murder. But then, why is a bag of cocaine in the trash outside his apartment?

link to NetgalleyAlso, there is a huge new spa soon opening in town. There is some sort of scam surrounding this project. Matte was the project economist and had some questions about the finances.

Again, I liked this novel more than I wanted to, especially as the lives of several of the regular characters seem to be descending into soap opera. Still, Läckberg hid the identity of the murderer from me until late in the novel.

This book has strong themes about the abuse of women. In fact, that has been a theme since early in the series, when Anne was married to an abusive husband, but it is even stronger here.

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Day 973: The Lie

Cover for The LieBest Book of the Week!
Helen Dunmore has this thing she does. I’ll be reading along, moderately interested, and then at the end of the novel she’ll do something that makes me realize the novel is much better than I first supposed. She does this again with The Lie.

Daniel Branwell has returned to his home town in Cornwall from World War I. A dying old lady took him in when he arrived home, and he cared for her until her death. He doesn’t want to mix much with other people, though. He is traumatized from the war and particularly by the death of his friend Frederick, who is haunting him.

As Daniel struggles to make a living, his memories alternate between those of the war and of his childhood friendship with Frederick. Although Daniel was bright and did well in class with an eidetic memory for poetry, he was forced to drop out of school at the age of 11. Frederick, as the son of a wealthy man, was being prepared for better things. Still, even as young men, when Frederick was home they were nearly inseparable.

Daniel meets Frederick’s sister Felicia, now a widow with a young daughter. Their mutual grief brings them together, and they begin spending time with each other, he helping her around the house or both of them visiting the sites of his adventures with Frederick.

But Daniel has told a lie about something. Because of it, he is aware he’s being misunderstood by the village.

This is a powerful novel that I may not have looked for were it not for my Walter Scott Prize project. Although I have not enjoyed all of the short listed books, this one sneaked up on me.

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