Monday, August 18, 2008

The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman

Augustus Penrose created the stained glass 'Lady Window' to adorn the chapel of the university he founded for the daughters of the women who worked in his factory, the Rose Glass Works. Depicting his wife, Eugenie, as the Lady of Shalott, it's a mesmerising portrait that has come to embody the spirit of the school itself.

But now, eighty years after it was created, the Lady Window is due for restoration. The task falls to former alumna Juno McKay. She's restoring it with the help of her friend, Christine Webb, an art historian who is researching the window for her thesis. Christine seems to have discovered some new evidence that suggests that Clare, not her sister Eugenie, was the subject for the Lady Window. But before Christine can discuss her findings with Juno, she's found dead in a boating accident that eerily echoes the fate of the Lady of Shalott. but did she drown or was it something more sinister?

As Juno starts to make her own investigations into just how Christine died, she learns more about Augustus Penrose and his family. The Lady Window was not the only thing the Penroses bequeathed to the world. Madness and deception also form part of their legacy...
Christine Webb is a glassmaker who specialises in restoring stained glass windows. Her company is currently working on a really big project - the restoration of The Lady Window from Penrose College. Christine had attended the college until she left because she was pregnant, and now as a single mum she is watching her teenage daughter become more independant meaning that she has more time to devote to herself. She had married but her husband, who was a successful artist, has been institutionalised in the local asylum after he tried to kill both her and their child years before in a moment of madness.

Christine's best friend Juno also studied at the College and was working on a thesis about the window, and about the founders of the college, Augustus Penrose and his wife Eugenie. After giving a speech at the college about her ideas about the origins and subject matter of the window, Juno goes missing, and is found drowned in the grounds of the Penrose's now deserted home, in an eerie echo of the fate of the Lady of Shallot, who is one of the many classical mythical figures that were used in the Penrose's art and decorations.

For me, this book was flat from beginning to end. The characters never really engaged me, in particular Juno who I never really cared too much for. If there was one thing I did like, it was the treatment that Goodman gave to Neil, Iris's ex husband, although the climactic events of the book that involved him felt extremely contrived and very handy so that we could have the ending that occurred.

Once again Goodman tried to show how clever she was by trying to fit as many classical mythical figures into the narrative as well as lots information about the making and restoration of glass. I do normally like it when an author tries to incorporate new things into the narrative, but when the narrative was already ponderously slow, this just tended to slow the action down even further.

When I first started reading this book I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a link to the previous book that I had read, which I posted about here. It was basically the only pleasant surprise I had. After having declared how much I enjoyed the last Goodman book that I read, this one was a real disappointment for me. I have requested The Sonnet Lover from the library so I guess we will see where that book fits for me in the enjoyment scale.


  1. Sounds such a good scenario too Marg, if a little too Gothic for my tastes

  2. I hear that Goodman has a new book coming out this year. I'm looking forward to it - I liked this one but was a bit underwhelmed by The Sonnet Lover - maybe you'll enjoy more though!

    Oh and I got my book from the Historical Tapestry drawing - So excited :)

  3. I am so glad you got it Iliana!

  4. This sounds like it could have been an excellent book - history and stained glass intrigue me. Too bad it didn't pan out.

  5. Well, I guess I won't bother with this one. Too bad, it sounded promising.