Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman

Another of Carol Goodman's literary mysteries, a review I found calls it, but this wasn't really a mystery at all, even though it contained questions that slowly were answered. More a novel of the supernatural, almost a more erudite version of one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's parapsychologicals.

Writers and artists are invited to Bosco, a retreat where they can create undisturbed all day. Ellis is writing a novel about a sequence of events involving a medium that took place at Bosco over a century before. And strange things happen...

The story of modern Bosco is interleaved with the story from the past, and I wasn't quite sure if what I was reading was Ellis's novel or the events she based it on. No matter, or perhaps, no difference.

Goodman's books are plagued by coincidence. The odd hidden relationships of the characters, the mediums' tools left under the bench for a century for Ellis's mother to find... it didn't bother me so much in this one, given the supernatural hand in things, but the spirits still needed help from a good dose of unlikely happenstance.

But the unlikely happenings all fit together and grew into something genuinely touching, and subtly creepy. And there's this line near the end:

"This disconcerts me more than the broken teacups and disembodied voices and Diana speaking in tongues--that Zalman's beautifully ordered poems have gotten scrambled together..."

All her earlier books have water in the title: Lake, Water, Drowning. This didn't, but the fountains of Bosco ran through it, and the book might almost have been called Muse of Water along with the biography of Bosco's founder one of the secondary characters was writing. But perhaps the bog orchid was wet enough.

And it fit very well with her earlier books, even if they are more like traditional mysteries. They're all also of another subtype I really enjoy even if I have trouble defining it. I'm not sure what else fits the mould. A. S. Byatt's Possession, yes, though not her others. Some of Robertson Davies, perhaps; Rebel Angels or maybe Lyre of Orpheus. Amanda Craig's In a Dark Wood, which is like Goodman's earlier Seduction of Water, but also another thing entirely. Maybe Fiona Mountain's Pale as the Dead - that's genre mystery, but I think it's good in non-genre ways too. These are books with a sense of place and time, a delving into some real or imagined past, a centrality of arts or literature - not just "literary mystery" as in mystery well-written, but a mystery of literature. Well-written is good too. If any reader knows what I'm trying to get at, I'd appreciate suggestions for other books in the same vein.

1 comment:

Steve M. said...

I wonder if Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" would fit your idea of a mystery about literature.