The gothic tale The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill, author of The Woman is Black, starts out promising but leaves the reader stranded. It is the tale of an Englishman, Sir James Monmouth, who has travelled the globe in the footsteps of his hero–an adventurer named Conrad Vane. The author trots out the usual satisfying tropes of the genre–the barren English countryside, the haunted boys’ school, the gilded manor house at Christmastide–which is richly described and a satisfying backdrop as Monmouth journeys to uncover the truth about Vane. Along the way, he encounters a ghostlike boy, crying in the night, disappearing doorways, a gypsy woman and misty images in the mirror–not to mention everyone he meets tells him to abandon his pursuit, but will not say why. After all the 200 plus pages of build-up, Sir James finally uncovers an aged relative living in the ancestral home, which has some connection with Vane. But despite all the warnings, the ghosts, the mysterious hallucinations, author Susan Hill just ends the story without much of an explanation for any of them (don’t want to spoil it for readers). Hill certainly has the voice down perfectly for this genre and ability to transport the reader back to another time, but the plot was weak and inconsistent.
Monthly Archives: November 2014
The new novel by Julia Dahl, Invisible City, refers to the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community within New York. The story opens when Rebekah Roberts, stringer to the New York Tribune, is assigned to cover the story of a body found in a scrap heap by the river. Things get complicated when it is revealed that the body is a young mother of the Hasidic community, whose husband owns the scrap yard. Despite these damning coincidences, the body is quietly taken away by members of the Orthodox community’s private police force and buried without police involvement–neither the collection of evidence, autopsy, nor questioning of the woman’s husband and family– all pointing to a suspected NYPD cover-up for the sake of political ambitions and financial donations from the wealthy and powerful Jewish community. Roberts, refusing to let the truth behind the murder of this woman be buried with her, attempts to get answers from a silent Hasidic community, distrustful of outsiders. But Roberts, haunted by her own crippling past in which her Orthodox Jewish mother abandoned her, probes deeper into the murder in an attempt to get answers not just for the victim’s sake, but also for herself. The story is written in the first person and in present tense, lending a breathless immediacy to the action, which takes place over the course of only one week. The story is a well plotted page turner and the characters are well drawn. The author’s own experience as a reporter shines through in the authenticity of the character’s experiences. My only objection is the over-use of profanity and at one point an awkwardly phrased apology to the Orthodox community in the mouth of one of the characters. Overall, an interesting read.