I am afraid that there is not much for this week. Almost no planning or research went into this chapter. Still, I had difficult decisions to make while writing this chapter. How much to reveal to the reader?
This is a classic dilemma. On one hand, it is ideal to have the reader know everything. This is why omniscient narrators are so popular. On the other hand, it is beneficial to the suspense of the story to keep some information hidden. But, in works like this, with complex machinations, it is hard to strike a balance. But balance I did. Or at least I hope so. Thus, this chapter is nothing more than a device to reveal key information while introducing an aspect of mystery to the story. It was certainly a fun chapter to write, and hopefully one you will enjoy.
No onward – to the publishing of my latest book. One more proofread!
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.
From the heat of Arizona to the snow deep in mountain ranges, to Istanbul, The Monk’s Curse will plunge you into a strange world – ever shifting – that will tickle your senses and keep your heart racing.
A few weeks, or was it months, ago, I announced here that I would be redefining my online literary persona. In doing so, I redesigned my website, unpublished all my books, and immediately began working on The Monk’s Curse.
Now, in the beginning, I did not reveal much. To be precise, this is what I said:
One of the things that have sparked this reinvention was the conception of The Monk’s Curse. I can’t say much about it, but I describe it as the riveting story of a boy, a prophecy, and a monk. It’s a story where East meets West and the Islamic Caliphate meets Christendom. Oh no, I have said too much! What I can say is that while writing this novel I have made up the most outrageous of fake histories, the evilest and naive of characters and the most scholarly prose. You won’t find too many action scenes in this novel. It is a political masterpiece with constant machinations going on behind the scenes. If you are anyhow interested in scholarly and political mysteries, keep your eye out for this book.
But, here’s more:
Basically, all I knew when I began writing was what I had told you all. There would be a boy, a monk’s curse (the prophecy), and a whole host of complex characters.
But, as I began to write it, I noticed that I was focussing less on the monk’s curse and more on where the plot was taking me. To be precise, I noticed that my characters were leading my fingers as they typed. Well, what I mean to say is that my words were being guided by the story itself, and not my mind. Now, to seasoned authors, or readers who follow authors closely, this idea would seem quite a cliche. I suppose it is, but I also suppose is that that is what creates a great story.
In the beginning
So, when I began, there was a curse, a boy affected by the curse, and a few secret societies manoeuvring for control of the boy and for supremacy. That was the first chapter.
In the second chapter
Here is where I discovered how intricate the story would become. A minor member of one of the secret societies addresses his masters after committing certain acts. His masters are furious and order him to cease the carrying out of those acts. This is where the antagonist is born – an antagonist I didn’t even know I wanted.
It gets better. I started writing about characters whom I had identified as the ‘good guys’, but as if under a monk’s curse I encountered confusion, in myself and in my characters. I could no longer tell who was good and who was bad. Who could the boy trust? Who could we, the readers, trust?
And this all went on and on. Soon, I started a habit which I had always read about but had resigned as unnecessary: the habit of sporadic note taking. I had to do this because with the twists came brilliant new ideas: ideas of dialogue, assassinations and hidden histories. Right now, I have about ten memos, and I can’t even remember what they relate to. Alas, the note taking tip doesn’t work!
But, why am I telling you all of this?
Readers often don’t care about the creative process, and I must admit, neither do I. I couldn’t care less how J.K. Rowling or J.R.R Tolkien conceived their epics. However, I am telling you all of this, because I wish to pass on one simple message. If this story can surprise me, imagine how it will surprise you. I love to read books that keep me on the edge of my seat, and I can promise you that this one will.
From the heat of Arizona to the snow deep in mountain ranges, to Istanbul, this novel will plunge you into a strange world – ever shifting – that will tickle your senses and keep your heart racing.