Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

lace-reader

Favourite quotes:

“Old houses catch threads of the people who have lived them in the same way a piece of lace does. For the most part, those threads stay quietly in place until someone disturbs them. An old cleaning woman reaching for cobwebs reveals the dreamy dance of a girl home from a first cotillion. Dance card still dangling from her wrist, the girl closes her eyes and twirls, trying to hold the moment, the memory of first love. The old cleaning woman knows the vision better than the girl herself does. It’s the one she has longed for but never lived”.

“There is a point where the life force overcomes the will and the body simply breathes itself. It just happens. It hurts like hell when you take a breath of seawater, but the hurt goes away quickly, and then you feel the flow of water and hear the music of the spheres”.

“And we are back in history in the days whern they came to get you because you were a woman alone in the world, or because you were different, because your hair was red, or because you had no children of your own and no husband to protect you. Or maybe even because you owned property that one f them wanted”.

 

Towner Whitney doesn’t remember why she left Salem all those years ago, when her name was still Sophya. Accordingto her, she’s crazy. Indeed, in Salem, the Whitneys are known as “quirky”. Especially Towner’s great-aunt Eva, who runs a tearoom and is a renowned lace reader. Lace reading is a form of fortune-telling – a gift that most Whitney women have, to an excent. But Towner is back now. Her great-aunt Eva is missing.

Forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed all those years ago and faced with the possibility that her great-aunt might be dead, Towner tries to get answers from Eva’s friends and the rest of her family. When Detective Rafferty appears in Towner’s life, things get even murkier. He is determined to get the answers as to Eva’s disappearance, and to put away the leader of the Calvinists. The Calvinists are an ultraconservative Christian cult named after their leader Cal Boynton who used to be part of Towner’s family. Rafferty believes Cal to be behind Eva’s disappearance, and also behind the murder of Angela Rickey, a former member of his cult who is also missing.

As Towner’s relationship with Rafferty develops, he grows increasingly concerned about her and the town and digs deeper into Towner’s past that she’s forgotten. Or tried to bury deep down. Will his findings confirm what he’s suspected a long time ago? Or will his perception of reality be completely shattered, destroying himself and Towner in the process?

 

When I read a mystery novel, I like to be engaged from the beginning until the very end. And I like to not be able to guess the ending until the last page. “The Lace Reader” definitely delivered on the latter. The plot twists were quite unexpected, and not in a “plot holey, out of nowhere” way at all. However, I can’t say that this novel has kept my attention the whole time. This is primarily because of the narration.

Towner is the primary narrator, and an extremely unreliable one, who narrates in first-person present tense. However, we also have another narrator – Detective Rafferty. His narration is third-person past tense. I honestly didn’t get why that plot device was necessary. Towner’s unreliability as a narrator could’ve been done just as well in the past tense. Perhaps the narration of what was happening presently was done in the present tense to distinguish it from Towner’s journals written when she was 17 in the past tense. That didn’t help though – I kept forgetting what was happening when through most of the second half of the book. Unless that was the intended effect, it wasn’t the best mystery novel technique.

Confusing the reader can work, to an extent. It worked in “Gone Girl”, somewhat worked in “Pretty Little Liars”, and it was done really well in the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. However, it was very over-the-top in “The Lae Reader”. I finished the book two days ago and I’m just now putting the pieces together. And not all of them, even – I still have so many questions. I’m still unclear as to what really had happened to Towner during the times she wrote about in her journals. I still don’t get whether she knew that what she was writing about didn’t really happen or whether she really was as mentally unstable as she claimed. And – perhaps that’s just me – but I’m still figuring out what actually happened to Eva. Perhaps I’ll understand the book better once I read the companion novel. There is one thing I am certain of – Cal Boynton deserved what he got.

My other issue is that how sexual assault and its aftermath were handled in the book. It’s not glorified – quite the contrary. But it is made into a plot point that’s never fully explored and a lot is left up to the reader’s interpretation. It was also used for shock value. If one chooses to tackle such an intense subject, I believe that they should deal with it fully and thoroughly. “The Lace Reader” doesn’t exactly brush off over the mental anguish that follows sexual assault. However, the mental health issues are also used as a plot point and a trigger for many things. I for one felt that it wasn’t done as well as it could have been.

Towner says she is a liar at the start. The book seemed to heavily imply that she couldn’t be trusted because of what had happened to her in the past. I, for one, was quite bemused by that. Maybe that’s because my interpretation is incorrect – and I do encourage readers of this blog to send me theirs in the comments! Nevertheless, it wasn’t my favourite aspect of an otherwise very atmospheric and unique novel. My rating for “The Lace Reader” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Lace Reader” if you enjoyed:

“The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

“The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes

“The Returned” TV series

 

Have you read “The Lace Reader”? Do you have different interpretations of the events that transpired in the book? I look forward to reading your comments! 🙂

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield (Christmas Special)

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“The Club Dumas” wasn’t the only book I’ve acquired thanks to Goodreads’ recommendations. This little gem was bought online in Oxfam – really recommend this shop by the way – they deliver worldwide and books are in great condition, and the money goes to charity. Win-win situation. And I’m not just saying that because I used to work as a bookseller for them.

Anyway, “The Thirteenth Tale”. This is one of the many books that I struggle, and do not particularly wish to, sort into a specific genre. From what I’ve read about the protagonist, she would most certainly agree. Her name is Margaret Lea, and she and her father own a small independent bookshop in Cambridge, UK – think English equivalent of “Sempere and Sons”. One day, Margaret receives a letter from a bestselling author Vida Winter who asks her to write the first ever true account of her life. Winter has previously given one interview a year and lied at every single one of them about who she was and where she came from. After some hesitation, Margaret agrees, the main reason being that when she read Winter’s novels for the first time, she felt like she was a child once again. For her, that was the time when books were everything, and there was always in her that “nostalgic yearning” for the lost pleasure of books she experienced then. Winter’s books have fulfilled that yearning.

From the first day of her visit, we get the vibe that this is going to be a novel full of gothic elements – quiet empty houses, moors, black cats, and gorgeous libraries. Miss Winter informs her that her story is very structured – obvious beginnings and endings. The rest of the book flawlessly follows the story of Miss Winter’s family and her childhood, intervining with Margaret’s own story in a beautifully chilling way. Vida Winter’s story contains A LOT of family drama, an abundance of gothic elements, “ghosts”, and, of course, books. A lot of books. However, the main theme and focus of the story is relationships between twins. Both Margaret and Vida have experienced the kind of loss only a twin can properly understand, which is what makes their stories so compelling and so beautifully tragic.

The title of the novel comes from a book by Vida Winter. The Thirteenth Tale is the story that has been “lost” since the first edition of the storybook. Setterfield clears that up at the end of the book.

Primarily, to me this was a very story-driven book. That’s not to say that the characters weren’t well written – they were all amazing. However, I am an only child, so it was hard for me to understand Margaret’s and Vida’s emotions and attitudes at times. Setterfield primarily focuses on them as the remaining parts of a sisterhood; therefore, it seems to me that those with siblings would understand it better. She is a really great writer nonetheless, and I firmly believe that those of you who do have siblings, particularly twins, would relate to the characters really well!

Even if you’re an only child, like me, the stories of Vida Winter,

SPOILER

or a girl with no name as we realise in the end

END SPOILER

and Margaret are amazing. Setterfield masterfully uses the elements from my favourite classic novels, such as “Jane Eyre” and “The Woman in White” in order to illustrate the events of the story and gives us clues as to the plot twists. This technique doesn’t always work, and it takes a great writer to make it sound good, but Setterfield makes it look beautiful on the page – a real feast for words conoisseurs like myself! She is a really great writer and, as expected from an English professor, uses various other literary techniques such as foreshadowing and metaphors to spook you and make you wonder about the twists. She does so quite masterfully, not unlike the Bronte sisters in “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” or Wilkie Collins in “The Woman in White”. Books such as the ones above, as well as “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” are all clues as to solving the main mystery of the story – who exactly is Vida Winter and why are her story and Margaret’s play such a significant role towards each other.

The only things I didn’t like were the POV switches in the story – sometimes it wasn’t clear until later whether I was reading from Margaret’s POV, Vida’s or a third person’s. Also, the book was a bit slow at times – Setterfield is a word aficionado and sometimes, uses quite wordy descriptions and spends long paragraphs telling us what a person is thinking, sometimes repeating herself. Most of the time it works; however, occasionally, it is frustrating, since you really want to know the answers to the mysteries. Nevertheless, I have no hesitation in giving “The Thirteenth Tale” a rating of 7.5/10.

Most relatable character:

Like I said before, the main characters would most likely be more relatable to those of you who understand what it is like to have a sibling, particularly a twin. I am not one of those people; therefore, I shall leave it to you to decide whether you find them relatable.

Least favourite character:

Charlie the master of Angelfield – he is one repulsive bastard.

Favourite relationship:

Setterfield is a master of writing sibling relationships. However, I can’t say which ones are my favourites without spoiling the book.

Favourite quotes:

Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes – characters even – caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you.”

“Readers are fools. They believe all writing is autobiographical. And so it is, but not in the way they think. The writer’s life needs time to rot away before it can be used to nourish a work of fiction. it must be allowed to decay”

“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humour, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. All this, even though they are dead.”

Dreamcast

My dreamcast completely matches the one decided by the BBC. Looking forward to the TV movie airing in 5 days!

Recommendations:

You will enjoy “The Thirteenth Tale” if you liked:

“The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; 

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte;

“The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins;

“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova

Happy holidays everybody!

(My photo)