Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Glass Ocean by Lori Baker

The Glass Ocean"I write in retrospect, from the vantage of a distant shore." Flame-haired, six-foot-two in stocking feet, eighteen-year-old Carlotta Dell’oro recounts the lives of her parents—solitary glassmaker Leopoldo Dell’oro and beautiful, unreachable Clotilde Girard—and discovers in their loves and losses, their omissions and obsessions, thecircumstances of her abandonment and the weight of her inheritance. Thomas Pynchon calls debut novelist Lori Baker �a storyteller with uncanny access to the Victorians, not only to the closely woven texture of their days but also to the dangerous nocturnal fires being attended to in their hearts.”

Carlotta’s story begins in 1841, when Leo and Clotilde meet aboard the Narcissus, on an expedition led by Clotilde’s magnanimous, adventuring father. Leo is commissioned to draw the creatures of the deep sea, but is bewitched instead by golden Clotilde, beginning a devotion that will prove inescapable. Clotilde meanwhile sees only her dear papa, but when he goes missing she is pushed to Leo, returning with him to the craggy English shores of Whitby, the place to which Leo vowed he would never return.

There they form an uneasy coexistence, lost to one another. The events of the Narcissus haunt them, leaving Clotilde grieving for her father, while Leo becomes possessed by the work of transforming his sea sketches into glass. But in finding his art he surrenders Clotilde, and the distance between the two is only magnified by the birth of baby Carlotta.

Years have passed, and Carlotta is now grown. A friend from the past comes to Whitby, and with his arrival sets into motion the Dell’oros’ inevitable disintegration. In hypnotic, inimitable prose Lori Baker’s The Glass Ocean transforms a story of family into something as otherworldly and mesmerizing as life beneath the sea itself.

This has to be one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read so far this year. The prose’s lushness left me stunned many times, and the story itself is delicately written.

I loved the way the story was told, with the narrator weaving the plot along, almost making it happen as she imagines it. There were so many fabulous details of the Victorian period, including details to do with ships and seafaring, that the reader really felt immersed in the age. The story is like an old, kind of worn piece of lace that is lightly yellowing, intricate and pungent.

The characters, especially Clotilde, are fascinating. The author manages to bring them to life in such a way that they are never overwhelmed by the atmosphere or the details. This is not easy to achieve in such an elaborate novel as this one is. Characters usually fall by the wayside when details are so strong and the Gothic atmosphere is so rich, so I was so glad to find that it was not the case in this one.

If you love literary fiction, historical fiction, or both, and enjoy gorgeous writing, then I highly recommend this one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is going on the TBR - it sounds absolutely wonderful! You are always reading the most interesting stuff.