Science fiction and fantasy
by Gregory Maguire
When Winnie arrives in London she finds her cousin John missing, and the workmen who are supposed to be fixing the flat are too spooked to get anything done. Her downstairs neighbour is mad as a hatter, and no-one can tell her where John is. Her ancestor Ozias Rudge, who she believes was the inspiration for Dickens' A Christmas Carol, leers at her from an old portrait as the house is filled with unexplained noises. Rudge House is full of distractions for the blocked author, but as the plot thickens she realises she may have more pressing issues than the need to finish her book. But is she being haunted for real, or are the occurrences nothing more than the product of the fevered imagination of a lonely, neurotic and attention-hungry novelist?
The characters in this story are subtle, and they tend to display a biting humour which can be quite catty. Winnie experiences jealousy when it comes to Allegra, who has her own claims on John. She gets standoffishness from Ritzi Ostertag, a psychic who she considers to be a theatrical sham, and increasing distrust from the widow Rasia. Relationships like these result in some lively banter.
However I didn't get much sense of who Winnie is and what she stands for. She's neurotic and a bit wet, but other than those impressions she's hard to pin down. She's very much a cipher. To an extent her blandness is dictated by the plot, but even if it makes sense for her personality to be somewhat indistinct, this does nothing to make her an engaging protagonist.
Lost could refer to various people and objects, and as the narrative progresses so does our understanding of the title's meaning. It's sophisticated and cleverly plotted. Although events in the story are subdued rather than breathless or otherworldly there's a rich atmosphere, and certain presences, or indeed absences, seem to hang over Winnie like a guillotine. But unfortunately she doesn't have the passion of a truly inspiring heroine, which is why this novel didn't quite come alive for me.
31st August 2010
If you like this, try:Surrender by Rhiannon Paille
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