Sarah Perry, the Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent is a bizarre tale. It’s bizarre not because of its serpentine mystery, but because it’s a good novel when everything about it would say otherwise.

Sarah Perry, the Essex SerpentThe Essex Serpent · Sarah Perry
Custom House, 2016 · 417 pages, hardcover

You couldn’t say that Essex Serpent is historical fiction or mystery or thriller, nor does it have a Victorian pastiche or the effervescent pall of fantasy about it. Or it does, but not quite. It’s a curious novel but one clearly meant for the present day, the present year, a sort of amalgamation of past place and present principle. It’s odd. Continue reading

Obsession is a reasty little vengeance

We have a too easy capacity for convincing ourselves of anything – for conceiving, nursing, coddling – an obsession, of holding onto one thing (that might not even be true) out of desperation, and Donna Tartt renders this perfectly in The Little Friend.

The Little FriendThe Little Friend · Donna Tartt
Vintage, 2002 · 624 pages, paperback

A certain psychopathology colors her novel, percolates, and forces through the kudzu vines as the decisive factor in the novel’s very density. There’s always that shadow of the 9-year-old Robin hanging from the Tupelo tree. Back and forth, back and forth, a small body rocked from light to dark.

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Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White hinges on identity, forgery and rank suspicion, suspicion that gets the better of us and makes us rash instead of rational.

The Woman in White

The Woman in White · Wilkie Collins · 1860
Penguin, 2009 · 672 pages, hardcover

The Woman in White is both a sensationalist thriller and a social commentary. Collins takes his shots at the marriage laws and rules of inheritance of 1850s England, and he provides a creeping horror alongside it, the same kind of horror where you realize how very trapped you are and how powerless you are to get out. A close marriage, the words invalid and invalidate.

That pernicious horror doesn’t confine itself to money, nor even to love, but asserts itself as an erasure of recognition, and this erasure necessitates a different kind of forgery – that of reclamation and the forging of a new life.

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Mystery train

Murder on the Orient Express · Agatha Christie · 1934
Harper Collins, 2017 · 267 pages, paperback

A wealthy man of dubious morals is found stabbed to death the night after he discloses to detective Hercule Poirot that he fears for his life. Snowdrifts have caught the Orient Express en route between stations. No footprints in the snow: the murderer must still be aboard, and it’s Poirot’s job to find out who it is. It’s classic whodunit style.

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