Sunday, December 18, 2016
A Stellar Literary Mystery in The Gloaming
We're very close to the end of the year when I write about that extremely subjective entity, the best books I've read in 2016. Many of these "best" lists come out early in December. Thank goodness for that or I'd have missed this beautifully written novel by Melanie Finn, a writer formerly unknown to me, but with an outsize talent. (www.melaniefinn.com)
A mystery, a psychological study of guilt, a love story, and a paean to Africa, (Finn was born in Kenya) "The Gloaming," which was published last year in Great Britain under the title, "Shame," is a difficult book to put down. Loaded with deeply flawed characters, it's a credit to Finn's authorial chops that we still become invested in the well being of each of them.
Pilgrim Jones was only eighteen and obviously susceptible to flattery when she met international lawyer Tom, a man who was likely attracted to her beauty and the way she would look on his arm as he traveled the world for his work. She hadn't had a chance to develop a persona of her own so she simply became a vessel for his opinions and ideas. By the time he left her, alone in a small town in Switzerland, friendless and with few language skills, she had a dearth of inner resources on which to rely.
When Pilgrim wakes up in the hospital in Bern she has no memory of why her car missed the curve, smashing into the bus stop stanchion, killing the three little ones who were waiting for their ride. She thinks she might be losing her mind when she returns home to find that someone has access to her apartment, leaving little clues and traces of his or her presence in Pilgrim's absence. Even a trip to the grocery store is fraught with anxiety as voices whisper behind her back, "Kindermorderin."
The decision to fly to Tanzania is the bravest, most uncharacteristic thing Pilgrim has ever done. Choosing to abandon the guided tour she shared with two "ugly Americans," to take up residence in the poverty stricken village of Magulu, well, that was considered just downright crazy. But she had Dr. Dorothea, a physician with no medical supplies, and Mr. Kessy, a police officer without authority, not to mention Gladness, the proud owner of the Goodnight Inn. Here, in this remote part of Africa, Pilgrim may be able to reinvent herself if the curiosity of the locals doesn't break her fragile defenses.
Reviewer Jill Essbaum said that she didn't so much read this novel as experience it. What a perfect way to describe how I fell under the spell of Melanie Finn's tale of loss, redemption, and final chances. From the sinister mercenary Martin Martins to Mama Gloria, who hopes to fill the void left after her son's violent death by loving and caring for AIDS orphans, these people burrow into your psyche and refuse to let go long after the cover is closed.