One evening, celebrated children’s author Corley Roper meets a woman named Mary Wilson in a graveyard. Both have suffered the recent loss of a child, and both are more or less adrift in the world—Roper is estranged from his mad wife and finds that he cannot write anymore. Later, he embarks on a search to find out the secret of Mary’s birth.
Set nearly a hundred years ago, this novel is sort of sepia-toned, in a way. The tone of the novel is dark in parts, and it promised to be a kind of a Gothic mystery. The story as it moves you along is compelling enough, but the ending left me wanting more—and not in a good way, because it was extremely anticlimactic (I don’t want to spoil anything, but it made me think, “that’s it? Why the heck did Roper even bother?”). From the blurb on the back of the book, Wilson wrote this novel about his grandmother, but I’m afraid that he made quite a mountain out of a molehill with this one—Mary’s secret isn’t particularly new or interesting. And it’s not much of a secret, either, as you will find out if you read this book.
I loved the atmosphere of the novel, but it was marred by characters who behave in unlikely ways. Why is a young American woman running around Europe unescorted? Why are pretty much all the characters so laissez-faire about the possibility of divorce in an era when divorce still wasn’t taken lightly? There are also a number of really wild coincidences—Roper goes in search of Alice, and the first hotel he enquires in happens to be the hotel at which she’s staying! The novel also touches on a number of different ideas and movements that were starting to take shape in the early 19th century (early psychology, cubism), but he never really delves into them. In short, this was a short novel with a lot of promise; it just didn’t hang together well for me, I’m afraid.