Coral Glynn (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch


Coral Glynn
Peter Cameron, 2012
224 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October, 2012

The set-up seems straight out of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. A shy, untested young woman, lands herself in a musty English manor house complete with a handsome but brooding owner and a spiteful housekeeper.

Yet Peter Cameron is after something more than a gothic mystery tale—his mystery has to do with the complex workings of the soul. In spare, elegant language, Cameron seems to ask how we know ourselves, if we can, and how we love one another, if we do.

It is 1950, and Coral Glynn arrives at Hart House to care for a dying woman. A home nurse, Coral lives her life as a mere appendage to others. She has no life to call her own—no home, no friends or family, no reservoir of wisdom to draw from. She rarely says what she thinks or asks for what she wants.

Yet no one in the manor house boasts a life any more vibrant than Coral's. Like the gardens outside, the inhabitants inside seem blanketed with a damp, corrosive mold.

Clement Hart, the middle-aged son, sustains wounds from the war—outward scars that mirror his deeper psychic ones. He's numb to the hope of love yet relieved to be "excused" from its "complications and mortifications." (The use of the word "excused" is particularly apt and quite funny—as if marriage and love were simply social niceties to be excused from, like being excused from the table.)

Naturally, one thinks, Clement is ripe to fall in love with Coral, and so he does. Or does he? He asks to marry her but not because he expects love or, perhaps, even feels it; he simply fears becoming "bitter and dead inside."

Cameron's book is pensive, at times dark and moody—but the author's sly humor is evident throughout. Clement invites Coral to sit with him on the sofa, but to Coral it feels "as if he had asked her to join him in the bathtub." There's a bit about a rock pastry bun, a green grasshopper cocktail, and an unappetizing canape. There's also Coral's all-too-literal understanding of language, which leads to some very funny dialogue.

All the characters in this story bump up against the very "complications and mortifications" of love that Clement had feared. But all's well that ends well...and the novel lands on a surprising—and surprisingly happy—note.

Reading the novel over again while writing this review made me appreciate it all the more. It's a terrific piece of writing with a wonderful cast of characters—loveable but flawed—who reveal their inner workings very slowly.

See our Reading Guide for Coral Glynn.

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