Kate Morton’s The Lake House; and why books need loving parents

I’ve written since before I could write. Formless scribbles that held no meaning for anyone other than their tiny author; but for me they contained the secret ingredient that was the very core of all the stories I tirelessly created in my head: love. Once you’ve felt that love for a story of your own, you can instantly spot it, or its lack, within the works of others, and even to this day, after reading pretty much everything I could get my hands on since the age of three, the discovery of a healthy dose of love contained within the pages of a book fills me with a deep gladness at the knowledge that there are other people, all around the world, who understand the depth and intensity of the unique bond between a story and its writer.

These days, to my sorrow, I’m more and more frequently disappointed at the lack of evident parental devotion between authors and the work they release. Granted, even within my lifetime, I’ve seen society change a great deal. The availability of information we enjoy today has made us more knowledgeable in some areas; but sadly it has also created a greedier, more impatient society, in which everything is deemed transient and disposable, and standards are all too frequently sacrificed in the pursuit of fame and money. Talent is no longer subject to any kind of quality control. The result is a disturbing one; the majority of the books, online and otherwise, I’ve read over the last couple of years have left me completely cold. Thin on plot and character development, disproportionately thick with lurid sensationalism; completely devoid of research and unimaginative in theme and vocabulary. Novels conceived as cash cows, prematurely sent into the world charged with making the fortunes of their mothers and fathers, without ever having known what it is to be loved. Despairingly I’ve wondered: am I part of a dying breed? Are there any authors left who share my determination to be the best parents they can possibly be?

Then something always comes along to restore my dilapidated faith in authors’ nature. This time the author was Kate Morton, and the something was her breathtaking recent release, The Lake House. I don’t deny I’m a huge fan of Morton’s. I’ve read all five of her novels and been blown away by each of them in turn. But this latest is like a masterclass in plot and character construction, every twist and turn painstakingly crafted and cleverly disguised beneath layer upon layer of character development and analysis, making the outcome fiendishly difficult to predict, even for a hardened multi-genre reader like myself. It’s such a long time since I found a book so precisely tailored; it’s so rare these days to encounter such devotional precision in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s. But beyond the superb craftsmanship, the most refreshing thing about this novel, for me, was the portrayal of humanity. This book is a powerful illustration of the fact that we are all flawed, driven by motives sometimes beyond our rationality to act the way we do. It shows both the power and the impotence of human love, at the same time as painting a vivid picture of the multicoloured no man’s land between the prescriptive, monotone worlds of “right” and “wrong”. It also gently makes the point that, although society may have changed a great deal over the last century, human beings, at our cores, have altered surprisingly little. In order to achieve these considerable feats, Morton simply uses her flawless observation of human emotions, reactions and motivations. At no point does she feel the need to employ the crass sensationalism increasingly prevalent in modern fiction, and for that I applaud and admire her, unsure as I am that I could employ such forbearance in a work of my own.

The only thing that worried me about this novel was whether the ending was too neat, and whether that fact made it seem a little contrived. But then I realised that perhaps that was simply my own cynicism talking. I write. Therefore a part of me must still believe in happy endings. This book managed to remind me of that, and renew my hope that a happy ending could happen for any of us, at any time. Why the hell not?!

This book also vindicated my belief that there are still some authors who are good parents to their books. Kate Morton, in my opinion, is one of the best mothers around, and has inspired me, as I labour over the sixth draft of my novel Twisting Fate, to continue pouring my love onto its pages. That way I can send my child into the world when, and not before, it’s ready to take flight, safe in the knowledge that I’ve been the best parent I know how to be.

Twisting Fate sneak preview

The book isn’t finished yet but it’s well on its way. So just to give you an idea of what you’re letting yourselves in for, here is the Prologue and the first chapter. Comments welcome! (Try to be as constructive as possible please; life’s too short for bitching.) Hope you like it!

 

Prologue

GENESIS

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Lucien. And Lucien said, “Let there be darkness”.

 

The dark, the night, is where I belong.

Time, the most institutionalising of all concepts, abandons all meaning when deprived of the unremitting march of the sun across the sky. The hours of work and structure are done, and the arrival of darkness heralds new and endless possibilities; a freer, more diverse and inevitably more nefarious world in which our actions can be lit – or not – in whichever colours we desire.

The moonlit world beckons me, draws me out as it does the moths and the foxes, creatives, chancers, crooks – all those who prefer to make and choose the rules they live by rather than existing in perpetual acceptance and submission. By night the Difference does not haunt me; the absence of daylight renders us all the same. The crowds are gone, and the remaining few are free to be dissident, to conduct themselves in whatever manner they consider appropriate, to light up the night sky with the consumptive flames of their passions or to crouch surreptitiously in the shadows. How you choose to spend the night-time hours is largely dependent upon your view of darkness – is it the sweet security of a warm blanket, or a well-deserved moniker for evil?

For people like me, the night brings hope.

 

I wasn’t always a child of darkness. Once upon a time I attempted to live a life much like any other, the potential of the night sacrificed for the stability of the day, throwing myself headlong into the pretence of being like everybody else. Sights, sounds, emotions and experiences went unheeded. I pushed the Voice into the farthest corner of my head, and part of me wished it would never return. Yet It and I were intrinsically and interminably intertwined. When I met Lucien, everything became clear and there was no turning back.

When I’m with Lucien, I am alive, I am a libertine; anything feels possible under the protective cloak of his darkness. The world is night, and it is alive, and I am alive, and I am the world, and the world is Lucien.

Like a velvet hurricane he comes to me, envelops me within the welcome manacles of his infinity, and inside his dark embrace I am at once the most powerless and the most powerful I have ever been. I am the quarry who, once ensnared, is free to rule the world, safe in the knowledge that for as long as I do his bidding, he will do mine.

 

 

 

 

 

THE OLD TESTAMENT

 

(Before Lucien)

 

 

The Gospel According To Eleanor

Chapter 30, Verse 7.1

(July, Year 0 B.L.)

I’ve decided I don’t want to do it anymore. Life, that is. Doing life is kind of like doing life, in the prison sense of the phrase. The daily struggle against the all-consuming abhorrence of myself and my situation is like living in chains. Sounds melodramatic, I know, but I’m thoroughly sick of it. It’s the same shit every day. And it’s always worst in the mornings. Get up. Co-ordinate myself sufficiently to reach the bathroom. Blow last night’s party out of my nose. Wipe last night’s fuck out of my crack. Ponder the notion of yesterday having been yet another day in which I got no further towards achieving any of my goals. Then – and only then, having flushed the vestiges of the previous day’s failures down the toilet, where they belong – steel myself to face my own reflection.

What I see is a face that is 30 years old. It’s not a bad face, really, despite a bumpy nose and strange eyes that look different colours in different lights. Sometimes they’re green, sometimes amber, brown, or even black when I’m scared, angry or on drugs. What colour they are at any given time is really of very little relevance. It’s what’s behind them that matters, the war-torn memories and unfulfilled visions, the experiences that have shaped me and scarred me and define me to this day. These are what I see in my reflection, each one as real and raw as if it were fresh, as if the paint has never quite dried.  These are the reasons I don’t like to look. The nakedness of my skin without the make-up accentuates the nakedness of my soul without the flirtatious humour and bluster I apply when I face the world outside. That’s why mornings are the hardest. They force me to confront myself.

“Well done, Ellie,” I congratulate the face staring into my own. “You made it to another day.”

She says nothing back. It’s OK for her, cosseted behind the security of the glass. She doesn’t live in my world. Sometimes I like to think she lives in the other world, the one I’ve glimpsed in snatched fragments throughout my life, the one where everything went right. But I’ve only ever felt it for a second at a time, and sometimes years go by and I don’t visit it at all. If that’s where she lives, I envy her. Meanwhile, I’ve tried to make the best of living in this one. It’s no-one’s fault it hasn’t worked out. Ellie the mysterious, lonely child. Ellie the problem teenager. Ellie the nightclub singer whose failure to get any further has at times meant failure to pay the bills. Ellie who can’t have children. Christ, Ellie who can’t get a man to stick with her long enough to contemplate the notion of having children, even if she could. Maybe that’s why every now and then I revert to thinking about Jude, wondering what he’s doing now, if he ever spares me a thought after all these years… Stupid sentimental cow I am at times, when I’m on my own, wishing the real me was the hard, flippant caricature all my friends think they know, wishing I really didn’t need anyone. Even the Man seems to have deserted me. I’ve not heard from him in a while now.

But none of it will matter for much longer. Soon enough I’ll leave all those guises behind, and this one, the real me, who has encompassed them all, and carries them with her like so many crosses on her back.

See, I really don’t want to do it anymore. So I’ve decided to die.