Reviews

Here Lies

JILL MANDRAKE

Quite a few in-depth reviews for Local Customs by Audrey Thomas (Dundurn Press) have been published, so I’m going to dip my oar in only to say that it has been a long wait for a new Thomas novel—close to a decade—and what a reward it is to read her new work. It’s written in the same format as her 1970 masterpiece, Mrs. Blood; that is to say, it unfolds in reflective, multi-voiced fragments, which bring the disarray into a finished ensemble. I say “finished,” even though a couple of notes are left hanging in the air. The story is essentially a mystery: an early Victorian poet, Letitia “Letty” Landon, is found dead under questionable circumstances, two months after moving to West Africa. She has recently wed the mostly benevolent George Mclean, governor of Gold Coast castle. The nightly disturbances outside Letty’s bedroom door are so hair-raising, they bring to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House. There is no question that such a setting as Gold Coast castle would be haunted, given its abominable history. Audrey Thomas is adept, as always, in depicting the influences—the local customs—of the era, both in West Africa and in England. In a memorable interlude, some of Letty’s admiring readers mail samples of their own poetry to her, for her perusal. Letty refrains from critiquing them too harshly, admitting that “even those of us who have been fortunate enough to have published and been praised, still tremble that next time, next time, we may be laughed at or even reviled.” That particular state of affairs is the same now as it was in 1838.

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JILL MANDRAKE

Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits. https://hido.bandcamp.com/album/the-neti-pot

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