I really enjoyed Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader. Having just finished writing about one unreliable narrator, Lucy Snowe, in Villette, it's ironic that the very next novel I read eerily follows stylistically in suit.
Towner Whitney discloses this to the reader from the very beginning. There's nothing better than a protagonist who is a truthful liar to set the stage for the contemporary gothic.
"My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time. I am a crazy woman. That last part is true."
Towner Whitney comes from a long line of lace reading Whitney women from Salem. (Yes, Salem of the"Let's burn them witches at the stake" Salem)
"Around every corner of Salem lurks a history lesson. Dead ahead as I walk is the Custom house with its gold roof. This is where Hawthorne worked his day job, an appointed position as clerk. Using the locals as subject matter, revealing their secrets, Hawthorne basically wrote his way out of this town, escaping west to Concord before the townspeople remembered their talent with the old tar and feathers. Still, now they celebrate Hawthorne as their own. The same way they celebrate the witches, who never existed at all in the days of the witch trials but who thrive here in great numbers now."
Towner has been in California for the past 15 years in what appears to be a self imposed exile and is called back home because of the disappearance of her elderly great- aunt Eva.
I won't go into too many particulars because this is the type of book that can spoil quickly if too much is discussed ahead of time. I read a few reviews that spoke to the ending of this story and so I was able to solve the mystery slightly ahead of where it would have been most satisfying - at the end. I doubt I could ever watch The Sixth Sense again because of this idea of once you "get it" the magic, the mystical, and the mystery, disappear. That movie was powerful for me because I "missed it" and then I "got it". Well, in truth, I'm embarrassed that I totally missed the whole thing until the end; I just felt stupider than all my friends who apparently tapped into their inner clairvoyance and solved it within moments. Hmmm.
The hard thing about really good first novels as a reader is waiting for the really good second novel. Barry's next book, The Map of True Places is due to be released May 4, 2010. Click the link and you can download and read the opening chapters.
Now if only Diane Setterfield would publish a second. If you have not read her first, The Thirteenth Tale, then put it on your TBR list. Riveting.
Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph, maybe two, of a book that I'm reading or plan to read soon...