Title: The Lace Reader
Author: Brunonia Barry
Published: 2006 Pages: 385
What? A book review? I know, this is a book blog afterall. This blog has been in a sad state the past month or so, but what a great book to get back into the reviewing habit with. I've had The Lace Reader on my wishlist for a while after seeing such glowing reviews, so I jumped at the chance of joining the TLC blog tour. Luckily, this one didn't disappoint.
The Lace Reader immediately caught my attention with its opening paragraph: "My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's no exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time." Unreliable narrators can be tricky for an author to carry out--sometimes the plot can become contrived as the reader is always forced to decide whether or not the narrator can be trusted or sometimes the narrator is noted to be unreliable and then the matter is dropped completely. Barry, however, has crafted an entrancing tale that kept me on my toes throughout the entire novel. Little pieces of the mystery begin to fit together one by one, but Towner is the perfect unreliable narrator--she tells a story that even she doesn't understand until the end.
Wait, I got so excited about the narration that I forgot about the plot summary! Towner, recovering from a hysterectomy, receives a get well gift from her grandmother (actually great aunt) Eva--a pillow designed for making lace, but when she reaches into the secret pocket of the pillow for a letter, the pocket is empty. When Towner returns home, she receives a frightening call from her brother, Beezer, announcing that Eva has disappeared. Towner immediately travels back to Salem, the town she left years ago, to help find Eva. Upon her return, Towner unravels the mysterious disappearance of Eva, but during her search other dark secrets of her past begin to surface--especially the secrets surrounding the death of Towner's twin sister Lyndley. These secrets could possibly be too much for Towner and her family to bear.
And other such complicated things. I've often seen The Lace Reader called a thriller, which in an unconventional way I guess it is, but more than that it is a book about the search for family history, identity, belonging, trust, and new beginnings. It has been a long time since I've read a book that I had troubles putting down, but Barry's writing kept me turning the pages eager to discover the past that Towner had buried deep within her. In addition to the strong themes throughout the book, there is also wonderful atmosphere created with the setting in Salem and the prevalence of witchcraft and religious zealots. The isolation of the towns and surrounding islands further add to the atmospheric tension, and this book had me dying to return to New England for a visit.
My only small complaint about the book is that it is mainly written in first person narrative, but there are a few sections that are written in third person--mostly centered around Rafferty, the police officer helping Towner find Eva and other plots things. At first the switches in point of view were unobtrusive, but near the end of the novel things began getting a little choppy. To me it felt like the book was falling apart a little bit, but I can also see how Barry was possibly using this writing style to convey a lot of uncertainty in the plot, but still. The ending, though, had me forgiving Barry of any previous choppiness as everything came perfectly together.
I'd widely recommend this book. Perhaps some might find it a little on the quiet side, but I think there are enough twists and turns that even the most impatient reader (ie me) will find The Lace Reader a compelling read. Recently I've started judging books by how likely I am to pass it on to one of my parents, and I can say with certainty that I'll be passing this one along. EDIT: I've picked this book for our book club meeting next month so we can discuss and then meet the author--so exciting!
What do you think about unreliable narrators? Do you think that they can be effective or gimmicky? Any memorable ones?
Also, Barry is going on tour:
9/14 – Los Angeles – Vroman’s Bookstore – Reading and Signing
9/15—Edwards, CO – VIP Customer Book Club Event
9/20—Andover, MA – Meet the Author Benefit for PATHS
10/12 Mequon, WI Next Chapter Bookshop
10/13 Dallas, TX Legacy Books
10/20 – Lexington, MA Library
10/22- Swampscott, MA Library
10/27- Destination Salem Lunch, Hampton Falls Library
11/18th 10 AM, Exeter Library, Exeter, NH
For more, visit Barry's Lace Reader website. I'm so excited to see that she'll be coming to Dallas--I'll definitely have to see about popping in for a visit! Thanks for TLC Tours for allowing me to be apart of The Lace Reader booktour.