Hill employs the standard elements — vague warning from an older gentleman, unsettling malaise, a crumbling English house, a mysterious ancestry and a naive narrator — to tell the story of James Monmouth.
James, our narrator, is English by birth but has no memory of the short time he spent there as a small child. His parents both died when he was quite young. His appointed guardian took him to India where he had a rather solitary existence. He amused himself by reading just about anything he could get his hands on. In his reading, he became familiar, and then obsessed with, a world explorer and adventurer Conrad Vale.
James begins a personal quest to learn more about Vale. As he starts to interview experts and historians, he is told to leave well enough alone. People plead with him to not dig into Vale’s past, that he was a bad man with a terrible history.
The story, as one is reading it, is intriguing and absorbing. It’s a gothic tale in classic style. What’s frustrating is that the climax is not even two pages long and for those few words, the story becomes opaque. The reader isn’t sure what happens. A bit of unexplained mystery is alright, but this is too obscure. There aren’t enough tendrils of information for the reader to weave their own conclusion.
Similarly, the copious amounts of research and questioning done by the narrator is abandoned. The reader still doesn’t understand James Monmouth’s connection to Conrad Vale. It’s as if she wrote a great approach to a starling vista, but just as you crest the rise, you find there is nothing to see after all.
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Series: Vintage Original
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Vintage (February 11, 2014)