Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Wandering Heart

Apologies for my recent absence. Husband and I have been resolved to start living healthier, so we've been doing a lot of active things this week. So far, so good!

Today I wanted to mention a book I just read, The Wandering Heart. I picked this up at the library because I occasionally do keyword searches in Amazon to see if there are any new PRB source books. The description on Amazon of this book mentioned that one of the characters had an affair with Rossetti, and I was intrigued. I wasn't expecting the book itself to be so good!

I like to describe it as a combination of Mortal Love with Possession...add a dash of the amazing film, The Innocents. In this tale, a modern history professor is given a chance to catalogue and document a collection of items gathered by a member of Cook's sea voyages. The collector was a member of an upstanding British aristocratic family, and thus the setting becomes deliciously gothic, as she travels to a family castle, and explores it. The plot thickens as she sorts through the family memorabilia, and discovers poetry written in almost every century repeating the same line: "Where is his heart?" She thus uncovers a family curse, and realizes she may be at more risk than she thought.

The book is really outstandingly written, combining historic details and gothic creepiness. I read large portions of it late at night, and felt a bit nervous to turn out the light.

My only complaint about the book is the author's heavy-handed discussion of the morality of the aristocracy. Because frankly, I'm in disagreement with her on the issue, and it took me out of the tale quite abruptly every time she insisted on cramming her message down my throat. But otherwise, the book was absolutely divine.

The Rossetti connection in the story comes from a family member who lived in the late 1800s. She became Rossetti's lover after Lizzie Siddal died, and stayed with him through his dark times until he died. A portrait Rossetti painted of her plays prominently in the story, and I enjoyed the author's description of a nonexistent, very Rossetti-sounding painting. Part of me was bemusedly saddened by the concept of this figure existing in Rossetti's life. What if she really had existed? Would Rossetti ever have painted Jane Morris, or had an affair with her? Would Jane have just found someone else, or would the Morris marriage be strengthened? My interest in the Pre-Raphaelites distracted me from the novel's story for a little while as I pondered the implications.


Lee Ann said...

Oh I can't wait to check out this book! As a fan of both A. S. Byatt and Elizabeth Hand (as well as the PRB), that's a pretty high recommendation! Thanks for that!

Stephanie Pina said...

I adore A.S. Byatt but I have not read any of Elizabeth Hand's works yet.
This book sounds intriguing. My "to be read" list for this summer is growing and growing!

I'm with you, Grace, in that I do not enjoy it when an author becomes too heavy handed with morality or any other point they feel the need to make. Subtlety goes a long way. For example, I liked a lot of Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries, but in quite a few of them she tackles social subjects in a very strong way in order to get her message across and it distracts from the story. If there is a moral to the tale then I want it to flow naturally with the plot.
I am looking forward to reading this -- I love seeing the Pre-Raphaelites in fiction. But I do wonder why they didn't choose a Rossetti painting for the cover art since he is such a focal point of the story!

Robin said...

Oh, how wonderful. Thank you for the heads up. I have been dying for something new to read :-) I'll add this to my list of Pre-Raph inspired fiction :-)

Grace said...

Ro, I thought of your list of PRB fiction while I was reading it :)

Lee Ann and Stephanie, I hope you both enjoy it when you get a chance to read it!!

A Rossetti for the cover would have totally made sense, but I have to admit the picture they chose is rather apt for the family legend, as you will see! :D

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

This is intriguing; I need to check this out immediately. The cover of the book is enough to get my attention. What a wonderful review you gave Grace; you most definitely are well read and I appreciate your criticism and what to watch for as I read. Lovely post. Anita

Stephanie Pina said...

Phooey. I had already promised the kids I'd take them to Barnes and Noble today. Usually this is a once-a-month treat for them and I let them pick whatever book they want (as long as the price is within reason)and I don't purchase anything for myself. But, I wandered around with them long enough to talk myself into buying the book and I couldn't find it! So, of course this makes me want it more. Now I think I'll order it from Amazon.

Grace said...

Yay Stephanie! :D