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[personal profile] missroserose
Sometimes you come across a particular book that's exactly what you need to read at exactly the right time. And sometimes, you read a book and think, "Man, I wish I'd read this five years ago."

Margaret Lea, our heroine, is a solitary type and mostly content to be so, with a shop full of books for company and a father who does his best to mediate the Obligatory Family Angst. One day, however, she receives a letter from Vida Winter, Britain's most popular and most mysterious writer, now very ill and wanting a biographer who can understand the secret at the heart of her tale.

This is clearly a book written for book lovers, especially lovers of the sort of gothic English fiction that's become classic in the past century (Jane Eyre, The Woman In White, and Wuthering Heights are among the many stories repeatedly name-checked). In a lot of ways, the first half of the story feels like a pastiche of these more famous tales - elements cut and pasted, rearranged in a bouquet and tied with a bow or two. Interesting if you like that sort of thing, but it never quite achieves a sense of harmony, of being greater than the sum of its parts; and if you're not a fan of that particular genre, it'll probably feel overwrought and ridiculous. Even if you are, it's frankly a bit slow and boggy, with rather a lot of time spent inside Margaret's head.

A little over midway through, and after an entertainingly meta interlude where one minor character even points out the overwroughtness of the whole project, things start to feel a little more real. The characters become better-fleshed, with more nuance and personality. The story finds a surer footing. And while I'm not entirely convinced by the Big Secret, it brings enough of the disparate threads together for the conclusion to be satisfying, if perhaps not as cathartic as the author hoped.

I feel like if I'd read this some years ago, when my life was slower-paced, I spent a lot more time alone, and I was making a concerted effort to read a number of these classic gothic novels, I might have enjoyed this story a lot more. But as it is, I'm much busier and more social these days, so the slow pace of the story frankly annoyed me. (If it weren't for Audible's 1.5x speed-listen feature, I might not have gotten through the first part at all.) Still, everything moves in cycles; sooner or later I'll probably slow down again, and turn more to books for company. Perhaps I'll reread this book then, and see whether I appreciate it better. C+


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