The Seeker by R.B. Chesterton (alias Carolyn Haines)
March 6, 2014; 352 Pages
A young graduate student travels to Walden Pond expecting to find inspiration in the quiet solitude but finds something eerie and malevolent living deliberately in Thoreau’s woods.
When graduate student Aine Cahill uncovers a journal proving that her aunt Bonnie was an intimate companion of Henry David Thoreau’s during his supposedly solitary sojourn at Walden Pond, she knows that she has found the perfect subject for her dissertation.
She decides to travel to Walden Pond herself to hunker down and work on her writing, but it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems in Thoreau’s woodland retreat. The further Aine delves into Bonnie’s diary the more she finds herself wondering about her family’s sinister legacy and even her own sanity—is there really a young girl lurking in the woods?
As tragedy strikes a nearby town and suspicion falls on Aine, she scrambles to find the truth behind Thoreau’s paradise. (from the author's web site)
I haven't read a good mystery in a while. You know, the kind that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up? The kind that makes you thankful for your cozy home and the family you share it with (even though a teenager lives there!)? When Margaret (a seasoned member of our book club with a refined and trustworthy pallet) recommended it by saying, "It's scary. I want you to read it and tell me if it scares you too." I moved it to the top of my "Read Next" pile.
It didn't take long for me to become ensnared in the story and at several sittings I ended up reading for much longer than I had intended. The description (from the author's web site) is an accurate summary of what the book has in store so I'm not going to retell it for you here. I do want to share with you a couple of things that I thought about as I was reading.
First, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I have never really read Thoreau. A poem or two perhaps, but nothing that I'm able to quote or even recall the title of. I know that he was a proponent of the Transcendental Movement, but it took a trip to Wikipedia - not Walden Woods - to find out exactly what that was!
Next, there is a stretch of about 30 pages where the author seems to be exercising the flexibility of her thesaurus. There were words that I was unable to define based on their context, and one* that still made no sense even after looking in two dictionaries and on-line! I see by the author blurb that she was a journalist and along with being a novelist is an assistant professor teaching writing at the graduate level. Perhaps her relationship with written language accounts for the superfluous verbiage, however I was hard pressed to buy it coming from the story's main character. Yes, she (Aine) is working on her doctorate, but I just don't believe that a young woman who was raised deep in the holler by out law relatives, upon finding herself in a jail cell would consider the "effluvium" rather than the stink or filth of her surroundings! I can sometimes be put off by this kind of writing. Don't misunderstand, I encourage learning and using new words (and I think culturally our language is suffering at the hands of text messaging), but just because you can use "docent" instead of "teacher" doesn't mean you should.
In the case of The Seeker I am able to forgive Aine's unusual/inappropriate vocabulary because of the strength of the story. It's good. It's scary. It has an unusual and unexpected tie to Thoreau. It prompted me to learn about the transcendentalists, which in turn made the story more interesting. It did all the things that a well written novel should. Any book that has the ability to teach me (in this case new words and a little history) while keeping me entertained and frightened is a worthy read. If this one has a weak point, I would say it's in the ending, but you're going to have to read it and decide for yourself.
So thank you Margaret for sharing this one with me. I can confidentially recommend it to anyone who is looking for an intelligent scare with unexpected twists.
* In case you're wondering - the word that really through me for a loop is: "scuppering". According to my dictionary a scupper (noun) is a hole in the side of a boat that allows water to drain from the deck. Google's definition of scuppering (a verb): sink (a ship or its crew) deliberately. In the book the sentence is, "The day was brisk and sunny with white clouds scuppering across a deep blue sky." Searching synonyms of synonyms it might make sense, but as far as I'm concerned, clouds don't scupper!
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing part of your day with me. One of the great things about books is we all respond to them differently. Everyone has an opinion and there is no right or wrong. I'd love to hear what you thought of this book, and invite you to share your views in the comment section.
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