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Five Mile House: A Novel (2000)
by Karen Novak
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Wikipedia in English
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 158234096X, Hardcover)Karen Novak's remarkably polished first novel is a story of two women separated by a century and linked by the suspicion of madness and the lingering traces of guilt. In 1889, Eleanor Bly murdered her six children and flung herself from the tower of Five Mile House. More than a hundred years later, her ghost, who narrates much of the novel, reaches out to Leslie Stone, a New York cop who has killed a child murderer and is haunted by her action. The house is their common ground. When Leslie's husband comes to Wellington to restore the house for a deep-pocketed local historical organization bent on marketing the town's local witch lore to the vacationing masses, Eleanor finds an audience and Leslie finds... what? "Her fascination with the house was indeed connected to something else, and if she stared at Five Mile House long enough the image before her would rearrange itself into the form of what she really sought."
Eleanor and Leslie (whose physical resemblance to the 19th-century Medea is uncanny) are, of course, on mirroring quests for redemption, a prize which, the madwoman's ghost realizes, carries a heavy price: "I do not crave the truth; I dread it.... Yet, without the opportunity to tell my story, all that is left me is the ephemeral, disjointed speculations of others. It is for this reason I protect Five Mile House, to hold my story safe. I protect it from the living who climb the hill to see the relic of a mad woman and pay no heed to the implications of madness in the house itself."
The trope of the madwoman in the attic has a long and distinguished literary history (think Jane Eyre), and contains a complex tangle of repressed sexual power, threatening desire, and narrative control. Novak uses the metaphor as a springboard into an exploration of history and memory--and into a rollickingly good story, complete with a search for an ancient godhead text, battling covens, and herb-induced suicide. Skillfully interweaving its 19th- and 20th-century tales, accelerating toward a simultaneous revelation of treachery and murder, Novak's ghost story is astonishingly well-balanced, elegant, and spooky. The author's deft touch imbues the novel with a dark gothicism that never veers toward the eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging absurd. Her first effort should win Novak a legion of fans. --Kelly Flynn
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 17 Jan 2013 19:11:26 -0500)
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