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Black Lake

by Johanna Lane

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4612427,364 (3.56)1
A debut novel about a family losing grip of its legacy: a majestic house on the cliffs of Ireland. The Campbells have lived happily at Dulough--an idyllic, rambling estate isolated on the Irish seaside--for generations. But upkeep has drained the family coffers, and so John Campbell must be bold: to keep Dulough, he will open its doors to the public as a museum. He and his wife, daughter, and son will move from the luxury of the big house to a dank, small caretaker's cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family and, when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings surface. As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complicated, fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs, and what legacy is left when family secrets are revealed.… (more)

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I enjoyed this quiet atmospheric debut novel about a Donegal house and the family that live there. Dulough (Gaelic for Black Lake) is a house with delusions of grandeur built by an unscrupulous Scotsman (Philip the First) in the 19th century, in the shadow of Donegal's highest mountains Errigal and Dooish by a black lake near the sea.

Most of the book takes place in the recent past. The current owner of the house is John, who is unable to maintain the house and is forced to accept a deal with the government in which he and his family have to move into a smaller cottage while the house is made into a tourist attraction.

The first chapter is quite dramatic - John's daughter Kate has been taken out of school by her mother Marianne, who locks them into the house's grand but never used ballroom using the only key, and holds her captive there for several weeks. In this chapter we also learn a little of the history - we hear about Kate's dead brother Philip and that there are tourists below.

The next section alternates between the perspectives of John and Philip - John is preoccupied by the process of opening the house and Philip is trying to escape the upheaval by building a den on the estate's island, which is only accessible at low tide and contains a ruined church and the family graveyard. John also writes a family history for the tourists that includes a few embellishments.

The third part is an extended chapter from Marianne's perspective - we learn about her marriage, her difficulties finding a role on the estate and her problems communicating with John. She discovers the diaries of Philip the First's widow, which are related in some detail and contradict John's version of the story

The final part is a short postscript and partial resolution.

The story is very strong on atmosphere - Lane admits that Dulough is loosely based on a real place (Glenveagh) and some of the family story corresponds to its history, notably the eviction of tenants to make space for the house and improve its view. It is also very strong on family dynamics - both John and Marianne are well-meaning but they are unable to communicate, and Philip's perspective is well realised too. Quite an old-fashioned book but an enjoyable read. ( )
  bodachliath | Apr 3, 2019 |
Really this only just scraped in 3 stars. It had potential, but most of hat was unrealised. The basic idea and structure of the story was appealing to me. I liked the setting - the time and place. I liked the slightly mysterious feeling. Where the book fell down, from my point of view, was the failure of Ms Lane to really develop the main characters into people who were fully believable and whose actions were explicable at some level deeper than some vague genetic or family inheritance. I probably wouldn't exclude Johanna Lane from my reading list after this, but I'd be reading with a clear plan to bail out if the story wasn't grabbing me by 50 pages or so ( )
  oldblack | Feb 19, 2015 |
I was asked to review this by the publication date (end of May) and I had read it by then but froze up when trying to think of what to say about this book. It's one that deserves reflection and pieces of it will stay with the reader for a long time.

Have you heard of the Piatt Castles? They're in a serene part of Ohio and one of the castles was opened up for tours in 1912 while the family was still living in it. The Piatt family certainly had its ups and downs. If there were any tragedies like the Campbell family, the Piatt's have kept them hidden from public view and prying eyes. While I recently walked through these castles from the 1800s it was easy to reflect on the differences and similarities between the real and fictional families.

Both families have intertwined fates with their estates. Both have been faced with how much of their home should be turned over to the public and what improvements/updates should be made to retain the integrity of the original build while adding to the comfort of the residents.

This was one of my memorable reads of 2014. ( )
  astults | Jan 1, 2015 |
"This is a bit of a sad novel but Lane’s prose style carries you on because she packs such layers of meaning on every page."
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.gr/2014/12/black-lake-johanna-lane.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | Dec 2, 2014 |
An ancestral mansion lived in by many generations of the same family, some secrets, a dysfunctional family. Black Lake is a contemporary take on the classic Irish Big House novel. At the beginning of the novel, a girl’s mother takes her to occupy the ballroom in their former home, Dulough.

Black Lake begins with the aftermath of a tragedy. The rest of the story is told from several narrative points of view, that of the girl, Kate, her brother Philip, her father and mother. I really liked being able to read about events from each character’s perspective.

Johanna Lane skilfully evokes the atmosphere of the place and the stories of the family, creating a powerful and moving debut novel. ( )
  elkiedee | Sep 23, 2014 |
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. . . I regarded men as something much less than the buildings they made and inhabited, as mere lodgers and shorterm sub-lessees of small importance in the long, fruitful life of their homes.

-- Charles Ryder, Brideshead Revisited
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When they were little, the door to what was to have been the house's ballroom remained locked.
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A debut novel about a family losing grip of its legacy: a majestic house on the cliffs of Ireland. The Campbells have lived happily at Dulough--an idyllic, rambling estate isolated on the Irish seaside--for generations. But upkeep has drained the family coffers, and so John Campbell must be bold: to keep Dulough, he will open its doors to the public as a museum. He and his wife, daughter, and son will move from the luxury of the big house to a dank, small caretaker's cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family and, when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings surface. As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complicated, fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs, and what legacy is left when family secrets are revealed.

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