Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review: The Ghosts of Kerfol

The Ghosts of Kerfol
Deborah Noyes
2008; Candlewick; 978-0-7636-3000-3 (hardcover)

After seeing a discussion thread on YALSA-BK about Deborah Noyes' newest work, I moved The Ghosts of Kerfol towards the top of my to-be-read pile. When I read it, I found an atmospheric blend of ghost story and historical fiction.

Inspired by a ghost story written by Edith Wharton, this intense novel of connected short stories begins in 1613, when a mysterious death occurs at the Breton estate of Kerfol. The master has died and suspicion falls on his beautiful young wife, who was preparing to run away with another man. And when the wife claims that it was the ghosts of her dogs that murdered her husband--the dogs that her husband killed--it's little wonder that she is convicted of murder and shut up in a tower at Kerfol.

But these deaths create a stain on the already-forbidding residence, a stain that remains into the present day. There are strange connections between past, present, and future at Kerfol. Through the centuries, several people will meet their ends, discover unhappy truths, or simply see strange things when they step onto the grounds.

Noyes, well-known for her Gothic and horror stories, shows she is equally talented at historical fiction. Tackling periods ranging from post-Revolution France to the Roaring Twenties, the details and flavor of these times are fully realized. While the more modern stories lack this same immediacy--in particular the story set in 1982--all five works combine to fully engage the reader.

This isn't to say that the ghost aspect is inadequate. The Ghosts of Kerfol is a genuinely creepy book, full of surprises that keeps the reader turning the pages. Each story sees a slow build in the tension, sometimes resulting in a shocking conclusion, sometimes in an anticlimax. With each supernatural element, the connections between the stories grow stronger. It is only in the final moments of the last story that the ghosts of Kerfol--all of them--finally find peace.

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