As promised, a review of the process behind each chapter of The Monk’s Curse. This time, the topic is Chapter Three. In the preceding few weeks I have written of the Prologue (and its heavy historical content) and of the two chapters that set the scene: Chapter One and Chapter Two. I am afraid that there isn’t much to this week.
Once more, it sets the scene. But only very basically.
Instead, the protagonist learns very little more of his past – a past which will come to define his search and the plot – but so little that all it does is set the scene for the ever increasing number of questions that populate his thoughts.
This makes for an interesting journey with the character, because not only does it stay away from any action in the story, but it creates that action in the form that the questions take in his mind. His mind is riddled with questions. And this characteristic leads us to understand his character at an intimate level. A level that will stick with the reader as the fight and search slowly changes from mental to physical.
This chapter truly sets the scene for the unusual aspect of this novel. While most novels are based on actions, this one is based on actions and thoughts. In this way, the characters are understood – they becoming compelling reasons for the reader to keep turning pages. This is the substance of the story. This is what Chapter Three introduces.
So, more than anything, it is a short chapter. It is quite dull. But like every other chapter, it is essential!
Yesterday, I wrote about The Historian – a slow and lengthy read. I also mentioned that I had read a similar book recently. This book is called Arrowood.
Arrowood by Laura McHugh
Like The Historian, I cannot deny that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
It tells the story of Arden Arrowood returning to her childhood home – Arrowood – a large period mansion in the small town of Keokuk in Iowa.
But with the return of her home comes the return of a mystery that has haunted her all her life – the disappearance of her twin sisters when she was just eight. Ever since, her life has never been the same. Constantly moving around the country, her parents divorced, a humanities degree that doesn’t seem to help her, and a disastrous end to an ill-advised relationship.
Arden hopes that her return to the place she once called home will be the return to her life before the disappearance of her sisters.
Instead, their disappearance returns to haunt her, and Arrowood. So, she is propelled into a search for the truth with amateur investigator Josh Kyle. However, the answer is something she never could have imagined, and never could have possibly asked for.
But out of it, she gains not only closure, but the rekindling of old friendships, the start of a budding romance and a way forward from her tumultuous past.
What I didn’t like about it
To be honest, I expected a horror novel. Or rather, a mystery suspense thriller. It was one, but unusually so. Conventionally, novels of such a description do not take long to show the reader some action. So, it came as a surprise when I had finished reading one hundred pages and still had yet to see the exciting and violent confrontations, the amateur sleuthing or the horror of the disappearance of the twins.
To me, that was slightly disappointing. But, not enough to take away a star for my rating of this novel, which I would still give five stars. For, despite the lack of a ‘rush’, the novel kept me going in anticipation of that rush.
Despite how slow the novel went (I’m used to the fast-paced, one-night, Dan Brown thrillers), I thoroughly enjoyed the aspects that it was laden with.
So here’s what I loved about it
First of all, McHugh really knew what she was writing about when she described the town of Keokuk. Coupled with the vivid nostalgia that Arden conveys to the reader – the food, the drinks, the festivals, the experiences – the description that McHugh conveyed to my mind was exactly in keeping with what I read and saw of the town on Google.
In addition, I really loved the focus that McHugh placed on the opulent lifestyle of the past and how she contrasted it with the decaying lifestyle of the present. She did so through masterful descriptions of the styles of various period mansions around the town as well as with the frequent mention of how history graced Arrowood itself – the mouldings, the rich wallpaper, the panelled wood, the massive rooms, the antique furniture, even the noisy pipes. As someone who appreciates the old charm of such homes, it was a pleasure to see what a heavy influence the character of Arrowood had on Arden.
Furthermore, McHugh placed subtle clues of the hidden truth all through the novel. This was masterfully done with images of the rivers Mississippi and Des Moines, their confluence, water as a central element in Arden’s life, and the frequent floodings of various areas of Arrowood.
Chillingly, she tied in these signs with hair raising scenes that leave you wondering whether or not the missing Arrowood twins – Violet and Tabitha – really do haunt the house. And, there are enough of these well placed scenes to keep the book compelling just as one may think it is getting too boring. It certainly kept me up reading till two thirty in the morning.
And, finally, the end came, and with it, the violent confrontation that I had been waiting for.
Arrowood is definitely a novel that I will revisit. And, Laura McHugh is definitely an author that I will follow.
Despite its pacing, Arrowood had enough to make me love it. And, looking back, the setting was as such, that it could be no other way. With McHugh’s excellent storytelling skills, it is definitely a book that I will give five stars. And, it is definitely a book that I would recommend to others.