The Lake of Dead Languages [main] [about] [features] [reviews] [interviews] [link] [search]
By Carol Goodman
Ballantine/ 368 pages/ $23.95
Carol Goodman updates, but doesn't miss, a single romantic Gothic lick
in The Lake of Dead Languages. Even the title is evocatively eerie. A
19th century mansion in the Adirondacks is substituted for the
traditional moldering ancient castle. Converted to the Heart Lake
School for Girls in the 1920s, it is a place of many hidden secrets
and is haunted by the legend of young girls compelled to suicide in
its deep dark lake.
All sorts of threats, fears, and suspense pervade the plot, including
mysterious parentage and illegitimacy. There's no supernatural omens
or occurrences, but there are many portents, some destructive
superstition, and much that is, at first, inexplicable.
High emotion? There's a faculty seething with female issues and a
whole school full of hormonal adolescent girls -- all women in
distress. But the central heaving bosom belongs to
narrator/protagonist Jane Hudson. Jane's beginnings are as humble as
her name. She rose, by dint of hard work and scholarship, to a place
among her societal betters at the school. Now, two decades after
matriculating from Heart Lake, she has left her husband and returned
to her old school as a Latin teacher. By doing so she steps into the
shoes of a women who shaped her life and back into the distress of her
damaged youth. Jane's three closest -- and only -- friends were
victims of suicide during her senior year. Jane is the single
survivor, the lone bearer of the guilty weight of that sad mystery.
Her return to Heart Lake coincides with what seems to a deadly
reenactment of the past.
Then there's what the lit professors call metonymy -- an isolated,
heart-shaped lake that, when frozen, literally moans and howls; ice
that traps and kills; a dark forest and a dead language full of gloom,
mysterious myth, forbidden sex, pagan ritual...and more.
Yes, the elements of romance -- powerful love with the uncertainty of
reciprocation and the rising of obstacles; separation of lovers;
illicit love and lust; rivals for affection -- are all covered, too.
The only elements missing are the threat of the powerful tyrannical
male and/or paternal impediment of true love. Never fear! Goodman
substitutes dominant matriarchal figures, a whiff of societal
patriarchy, and class distinction.
The suspense, situation, setting, and students are particularly well
drawn. Jane, like all Gothic heroines, is a bit blind to some truths
and clues the reader will probably figure out long before she or any
other characters do -- but that's part of the fun of a good Gothic. If
Goodman continues to fulfill the potential of her page-turning debut
(her second novel, The Seduction of Water, was published in January
2003), she has the markings of a perennial bestseller.
-- Cemetery Dance #44
Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights