Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Coral Glynn," by Peter Cameron

The author Peter Cameron has been on the outer edges of my radar, off and on, for a while, but I was never intrigued enough to actually read any of his novels. Until now. I heard Maureen Corrigan review Cameron’s new novel, “Coral Glynn” (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012) a few weeks ago, read a couple of other reviews, kept being discouraged by seeing the word “Gothic,” but finally all the good reviews made me put the book on my list. Now I have read it, and am glad I did. It is an odd little book, but compelling. Cameron has said he was influenced by the writers Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Rose Macauley, and William Maxwell, all writers I like very much. Although he is American, he set the novel in the English countryside of the 1950s…not the charming cottage-y countryside, but the gloomy, isolated countryside. The influence that springs to mind is the works of the Brontes, especially “Jane Eyre,” with less overt desperation, but quiet desperation nevertheless. Another influence or at least allusion is, surely, Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” However, the “Gothic” element is less than I feared, and I got caught up in the somewhat mysterious characters and their relationships. The main character, the Coral of the title, is sparsely described, so we readers have to work at figuring her out. Clement, the sad man who proposes to her after just a couple of weeks of knowing her, and who is scarred by World War II, is also a fascinating character. This brief novel moves along briskly, despite its mysteries. Coral, although alone in the world, is surprisingly resilient, and there is a surprise ending that is quite satisfying. The writing in this novel is delicate, indirect, and compelling. Although I started by resisting the novel, it won me over with its unusual yet believable characters and its lovely writing.

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