Book: Black Lake by Johanna Lane
When you travel, do you like to visit old homes–you know, the Downton Abbey kind of manor, where the titled family has had to let visitors traipse through in order to make enough money to pay the taxes?
If you have visited, or stayed overnight in one of those places, you may have wondered what it would be like to turn your home into a place of amusement for the masses. What does it do to the soul of the place? To the souls of the family members?
In Black Lake, Johanna Lane explores those questions along with deeper, more existential questions that plague the family. She presents the point of view of each family member–mother (Marianne), father (John), son and daughter (Philip and Kate)–one at a time. The novel moves through a year when each person tries to cope with tragic changes in their lives.
Dulough, John’s family’s grand family estate stands looking out to water from a cliff overlooking Black Lake in Donegal County, Ireland, with woods behind the house. Stately gardens surround the house. The atmosphere is cold and mostly gloomy, a suitable setting for such a serious story.
Marianne, a city girl from Dublin, has adjusted to her marriage with John and the family heritage through her work with the garden. John has hidden from her the financial problems that came with the estate.
9-year-old Philip tries to understand the world of the grownups and is most fascinated by his father’s lessons about the ice age. Glaciers carved out this land. The effect of ice on land and the effect of the restrained coolness of emotions on family members underlies the story. Kate, at twelve, is never quite sure what she really thinks and feels. Both children are shaken when they must move out of their accustomed home and routines into a humble cottage while tourists traipse through what was once their private domain.
Lane skillfully wraps you in the landscape and magically captures just the right tone for each character.
The book’s circular structure means thoughts of one person are echoed, generally in a slightly different key, as we move from one point of view to another.
Johanna Lane has written an intriguing book that gives you much to ponder. Not the least, for traveler’s is the conundrum of how we peek into other people’s lives as we visit new places and how the observer affects the observed.
In the interview linked to her name in the first paragraph (above), Lane is asked a question pertinent for Travelers Who Read:
Which Irish authors do you think do a great job of capturing the countryside?
John McGahern — he wrote 10 novels set in the Irish countryside. His vision is a lot bleaker. He grew up in quite an abusive household. For him, the country is beautiful, but also a trap … I think he’s one of my favorite Irish authors. And Anne Enright, of course.
So there you go–read Black Lake, then explore the writer’s writers.
Or pop over to Ireland and visit the Glenveagh National Park, which Lane used as a model for the estate in this book.
Note: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book for review. My opinions are totally my own. There is a link to Amazon here. If you’re shopping for books or anything else at Amazon, it costs you no more to use these links, and you’ll be supporting A Traveler’s Library. Thanks. The two photos of Glenveagh are from Flickr. Click on a picture to learn more.