Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

GENRE: thriller/family novel

Towner Whitney’s Great Aunt Eva has suddenly disappeared – and when you’ve lived a life like Eva’s, that could be bad. It has taken something this serious to get Towner back to her home town of Salem, Massachusetts – notorious for the Witch Trials held three centuries ago. Because when she was fifteen, Towner got a glimpse into the future – a future without her twin Lyndley. Haunted by the tragedy, she ran from her family, her ‘gift’ and her past. Now the present might just destroy her...


This is a great novel. It’s not perfect, but it’s great and it was an immensely enjoyable read for me.

It felt like reading a modern-day Hawthorne novel. The spirit of Hawthorne, of Salem, of New England, pervades the novel from start to finish and I absolutely loved that. The Witch Trials happened long ago, but they are still present in modern-day Salem, as there are Wiccans, who practice white magic and sell souvenirs, and there are the so-called Calvinists, who resemble the Puritans who condemned so many innocent men, women and children to death because they were supposed to be dealing with witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials repeat themselves, but this time they take place in the 20th century.

Many things are explored in this novel. Salem as a town is presented, as well as Salem as the embodiment of human cruelty from long ago that is still present today. Religion is explored: Wicca, the protestant religion (the Calvinists), and the clash between the two. Through religion, the author presented how narrow-minded and outdated people’s minds can be, how ignorance breeds irrational prejudices and even abuse in the name of religion. I just loved those aspects and although they were perhaps a little exaggerated for the sake of the story, they were really spot on and well presented and dealt with. I should point out that the Calvinists have nothing to do with Calvinism, as this protestant religious group named itself after their leader and one of the characters, Cal Boynton.

In the heart of the novel is Towner Whitney, who narrates the story most of the time. She is from a ‘gifted’ family. She is able to read people’s emotions and she can see the future from lace, as she’s a lace reader. However, Towner tries to deny that part of herself because her twin sister Lyndley died and Towner had seen the event in the lace. Towner went through a lot of hardships because of her sister’s death and she ran away from Salem, starting a new life in California. However, the disappearance of her Aunt Eva forces her to return to Salem and face all of her fears and her past. Towner is a very intriguing character. In fact, all Whitney women are a bit special, if not a little odd, and the town definitely sees them as an oddity, especially the fanatic Calvinists. In Salem, being different can put you in a very dangerous position.

The relationships between the Whitney women are strained and complex. Towner never liked her mother because she held her responsible for everything that happened to her sister – because of a decision May, her mother, made when the girls were babies. So, Towner spent most of her days with Eva, who practically raised her and nurtured her ability of reading lace. When Towner returns to Salem, she has to deal with the relationship with her introverted, anti-social mother, her family, the memories, Eva’s disappearance and the clash between the Calvinists and herself. They don’t like her because she’s different. She’s a lace-reader, a complex woman with many wounds, and everything about her screams ‘different’.

I truly loved the characters. They are all special in their own way and well-presented and rounded. I love peculiar characters that happen to be multi-dimensional as well and the characters in this novel are both. I must also point out that the author dealt with twins. When a twin loses their brother or sister, a big emptiness remains in them, even if they never knew their dead sibling. It’s an actual scientific fact and when Towner lost Lyndley when they were teenagers, this affected her for life. The majority of her issues stem from her sister’s death. That was a great element of the novel, in my opinion.

Many interesting things happen, many surprising discoveries are made and it’s all done within the frame of Salem. I really loved the story and the way it was written. The author has a very engaging writing style. The ending truly surprised me; I definitely did not see it coming, although I paid attention to details. The final revelation was really great, but the explanation was too short and briefly done. I don’t like it when big revelations are not thoroughly explained because it feels to me that the ending is forced in such a case. Some things did not have a clear conclusion and I would have liked to know what happened to certain characters, especially to Towner, the protagonist.

Apart from the unsatisfactory ending, the novel was a great read. The atmosphere is great, very mystical and ancient. The town's past is still very much alive and it’s cleverly interwoven into the present. I loved the mentions of actual buildings in Salem, like The Custom House, where Hawthorne worked. It’s a very New England-ish novel. I truly recommend it.



Bookalicious Ramblings said...

OMG, this awesome review just makes me want to read the book right now!! I've had a copy for ages and still haven't read it, but I want to so badly - I just wish I had the time to do it. :(

Blodeuedd said...

I had this one but didn't really give it a chance, I am so weird about reading books in my own language

Julie P said...

I am so looking forward to reading this one now! Great review!

Mary Simonsen said...

In this book, there was no joy in Salem. I found it to be incredibly depressing. I heard an interview with the author, and she admitted that it was her first effort, and although I don't recall her specifically mentioning the ending, she said that it could have been better. I think this is something that all first-time authors feel (including me).

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Suzana, Blodeuedd, Julie - read it!;)

Mary - I agree, there was no joy in Salem, but I still enjoyed the book because of the very New England-ish feel it had. It reminded me of Hawthorne's stories and of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (and Tim Burton's movie). I guess I'm a sucker for that.;)

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I'm sorry the ending was a bit disappointing and I also generally like more explanation and conclusions at the end of the books I read; still it looks good.

Salem House Press said...

To find out more about the real tunnels in Salem Brunonia Barry talks about read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City and then take the cool Salem walking tour about them. Learn how 144 people hid behind the creation of a park to build a series of tunnels in Salem utilizing the nation's first National Guard to build them so a superior court justice, a Secretary of the Navy, and a bunch of Senators could avoid paying Jefferson's custom duties. Engineered by the son of America's first millionaire.