Sunday, February 7, 2010

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Review based on Advance Reading Copy

A fairytale within a fairytale.  This book was a wonderful surprise to me. The inner fairytale took me back to my childhood, but it did not leave me there once the outer fairytale began.  The Rosenthals had been a very close and loving family, but after the sudden death of her husband Jude, Meg discovers an alarming amount of debt that she will be unable to deal with in present circumstances.  Their teenage daughter Sally is not dealing with the loss of her father well, which is creating a rift between herself and her mother.

Meg is a folklorist and has entertained her daughter with some of her favourite fairytales as she grew up.  In particular, she has followed and studied fairy tales written and illustrated by two women who created a school of fine arts. The school was originally opened in Arcadia Falls to women only at a time when women were expected to marry, have children and stay home.  Meg is thrilled when she is hired to teach at Arcadia, now a co-ed boarding school a few miles from the town of Arcadia Falls. As isolated as the school is, it is here that she feels Sally will finally begin to heal.

Carol Goodman has a wonderful descriptive flow in her writing.  The story of "The Changeling Girl", a favourite tale of both Meg's and Sally's, was written in this location.  On their arrival, they see many parts of that fairy tale in the surroundings, in particular the copper beech tree, central to "The Changeling Girl" tale. Thus begins a new chapter in their lives which quickly takes on the flavor and nuances of a new fairy tale, or perhaps better said, an entwined tale of past and present.  Upon arrival at the school, the reader feels a sudden shift of reality.  Meg has been offered free use of the very cottage the original story-tellers had lived in, but Sally has chosen the dorm, leaving her mother to live in the cottage alone.

In flowing prose, Ms. Goodman has written side by side the original story and the current happenings at the school in parallels. It doesn't take long for Meg to realize that the atmosphere is heavy with strange events and a feeling of evil lurking in the background. There are many secrets, pagan holidays are celebrated by the students and  the woods are said to be haunted by the ghost of Lily, the original partner, who died in a fall... or was she murdered?  Her death left Vera, her partner, devastated.  A brilliant setting for fairy tales and an enjoyable read.  This is a winner, and is the seventh novel by Carol Goodman.  From the description of her previous book, "The Lake of Dead Languages", I will definitely want to read it too. 4 ½ stars.

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