Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Off Topic Fiction---A Classic Story for All Readers, a Gothic Murder Mystery and a Modern Horror Story

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Sterling Press, Unabridged Edition, 248 pp., 2004, $9.95.

Recognized as a classic but unread by CWL until his wife said it was her most favorite of all books. How favorite? The Secret Garden was the first story she down loaded when CWL gave her a Kindle for Christmas. Born in India, the unattractive and willful Mary Lennox is in the care of her parents and their servants until the cholera comes. She inadvertently avoids the plague by happily being alone in her room expecting the servants to come and dress her soon. Passed along by relatives who are not willing to keep an ugly and spoiled child, she is sent to live with an uncle, whose wife has died and whose rural Yorkshire estate seems full of latent mysteries. There is an abandoned and locked walled garden, a curmudgeon garden keeper, a boy that talks to animals who actually listen to him, a variety of servants, an uncle who abandons her upon her arrival and a voice crying in the night within the mansion. Pulling yourself outside of yourself by recognizing your faults, overcoming anger, and a quiet belief that nature can bring healing and reconciliation are the hallmarks of the well written, character driven that all may read for entertainment and insight.

The Glass of Time: A Novel, Michael Cox, W. W. Norton & Company, 592 pages,
$14.95, 2009.

The sequel to the first rate Gothic thriller The Meaning of Night: A Confession is set in 1876, follows the fortunes of 19-year-old orphan Esperanza Gorst who resides in Paris. Her guardians trains her to go undercover as a gentle lady's maid. Without knowing the motive for this subterfuge, Gorst gains the employment, then respect, then friendship of Baroness Tansor, the fiancée of the villain, Phoebus Daunt who were central characters in The Meaning of Night: A Confession Gorst quietly learns her mistress has many secrets, including her partial responsibility for several deaths. Michael Cox talent lies in his abilituy to convey the heroine's inner conflicts regarding the deception of her employer. Lady Tansor has a difficult and sympathetic personal story and a fierce manipulative way of handling money issues. Crooked lawyers, Victorian homicidal scum, faithful servants, lost children and police detectives complicate, endanger and prompt the heroine to boldness and a great degree of personal risk.

The author’s first novel, the chilling The Meaning of Night (2006), is set in London in 1854 and was told from the viewpoint of a scholar who became a murderer. This sequel, set some 20+ years later, is narrated by a naive orphan.
A childhood of Parisian luxury by her guardians, an excellent education by her tutor was seemingly arranged for her for one purpose which is called The Great Task. Lady Tansor proves to be a difficult employer, given to hysterics of grief over the death of the love of her life, the poet Phoebus Daunt, a murder victim. Cox so cleverly uses the plot of his first novel. The sequel can be read by both those who have not read The Meaning of Night. Both works have wonderful period atmospheres, intricate plots, and intelligent narrators. Both novel may be enjoyed for there history and their mystery.

The Birthing House, Christopher Ransom, 320 pages, St. Martin's Press, 2009, $14.95.

Supernatural and psychological distress await. In Ransom's The Birthing Housea relatively young couple descend into moral confusion and blurred reality after the occupationally challenged husband purchases on impulse a 140-year-old Victorian house in Wisconsin. A screenwriter with no sold screenplays, Conrad Harrison, has a crumbling marriage and way too many pet snakes. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn't. The reader realizes that Conrad is an unreliable narrator.

Joanna, Conrad's economically successful wife, moves into the house and then takes the first opportunity to live by herself in Detroit for eight. Being alone is not good for Conrad. The spiders in the house are pregnant. Conrad's male snakes have become transgendered and are pregnant too. The neighbor's teenage daughter is pregnant. Conrad's wife is not.

Conrade begins to hear crying newborns, sees dark shadows, discovers a photo album that is a yearbook of occupants of the house. Past occupants include a white trash family with a history of birth defects and a semi-religious cult with a dominant male and unwilling females. Prerequisites are met: gory climaxes, sexual climaxes, and ambiguous climaxes. A malevolent female ghost encourages Conrad's progressively unstable mind to teeter and totter. There is quick and superficial characterizations in the novel. Narrative is either a trickle or a torrent. Yet there are some very good scenes in the book. Especially enjoyable is the conversation that Conrad has with the white trash father and former occupant of the house. One of the few better scenes in the novel is their angry bantering in the bar.

Text by CWL.

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