Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Other Eden by Sarah Bryant

What a beautiful little book, was my first thought on finishing this. But on second thought not so little; over 450 pages, but I read it in a couple of sittings and didn't notice time passing.

A cliche, but it's easier to criticize than praise, and I sometimes have trouble writing about the books I enjoy most. Especially ones like this, that I just absorb in a kind of uncomplicated gulp of reading pleasure.

It's a sort of literary gothic, full of family secrets. Most of the book is set early last century. with a prologue 20 years earlier, and a coda much later. Eleanor is a gifted young pianist, raised by her grandfather. On his death she moves to an abandoned family estate in the south with her companion Mary (rather uninteresting, as companions named Mary often are). The estate, the Eden of the title, is lushly beautiful in decay, tangled and haunted, perhaps poisoned.

Strange how I find myself thinking of the book with an almost southern gothic vocabulary. It's the language more than the plot I loved, I think, much as I do love these past-delving novels. Eleanor's mother and her mother's twin sister traded places so one of them could marry the man she loved - this is revealed in the prologue. Eleanor knows nothing of this, doesn't even know who her father is, or that her mother had a twin. In eden she learns, slowly, and with the help and hindrance of two mysterious men who are somehow tied to those events from before her birth. And even Mary plays a sinister role.

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