by Elspeth Barker
I was away in Victoria this past weekend. Of course, I visited Munroes, THE most breathtaking bookstore in my neck of the woods. Gift card in hand (from my beautiful friend Debbie), I spent time within its walls doing one of THE BEST things in the world to do: running my fingers along the spines on the bookshelves until I settled on two (full disclosure, I picked 7, realized I only had a carryon, then had to narrow it down to two). One of the chosen was O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker.
Full disclosure, I thought this one could be a quick read. Still, I had to take my time with it….it is so beautifully written but SO unsettling in content. For example:
“Halfway up the great stone staircase which rises from the dim and vaulting hall of Auchnasaugh, there is a tall stained-glass window. In the height of its Gothic arch is sheltered a circular panel, where a white cockatoo, his breast transfixed by an arrow, is swooning in death….at night, when the moon is high, it beams through the dying cockatoo and casts his blood drops in a chain of rubies onto the flagstones of the hall .”(pg 1)
The novel starts with the murder of our tragic heroine, so you know how it ends before you even begin (as foreshadowed in the quote I shared above). The story is simply and tragically the story of Janet from birth to her death at 16. Janet is one of the most fascinatingly disturbing characters I’veI’ve met. I sympathize with her, but at times I find her incredibly annoying. She is self-centred, spiteful, and stupid at times, but she is also confused, unloved, and brilliant. She is treated horribly by many people, but then she, in turn, is capable of doing horrible things. I kept reminding myself that she was just a little girl and many of her choices were reactionary and, therefore, not wholly her fault. Janet would make a fascinating character study.
This book left me unsettled. I loved it. I’ve asked people to read it so I can talk to them about Janet.
Then send me a wee message to tell me your thoughts.