Maker of Swans by Pariac O’Donnell
It seems to me that the more books one reads, the more critical one becomes and so it is a real breath of fresh air to come across a debut novelist who demonstrates a facility with words which is both elegant and abundant. The book is a rich gothic tale that is captivating, strange and atmospheric. It has an old world grandeur about it both in the setting and the quality of the writing- mesmerizing, haunting and at its best utterly entrancing.
The Maker of Swans revolves around the life of Clara, a precocious mute who is the ward of Mr Crowe at his rambling dilapidated estate. Crowe is rumored to possess fabled powers, the details of which are kept from the reader until the final quarter of the book. Clara is left to entertain herself in the various neglected rooms and huge library and to amuse herself and Mr Crowe’s valet, Eustace Clara writes short stories that are interspersed throughout the narrative but are largely of little consequence adding ballast to an already literary abundant style.
The book starts with shots ringing out in the night and Eustace running downstairs to find that his master Mr Crowe, the middle-aged dilettante has killed a love rival in a fit of passion and as a result the leader of the secret society to which Crowe belongs, seeks revenge and retribution. The novel is written primarily from the view of Eustace and contains useful flashbacks to an earlier age from which we can fill in the back-stories to the characters. This device is used to good effect; the main characters are well defined that one can clearly envision them, especially the laconic Eustace.
One of the main literary devices used is to leave the reader guessing; for example the book appears to be set in an undetermined age, which I first thought was around the mid 19th century (because of the formality of the writing and phrasing,) but with the mention of phones, cars and a plastic chair I had to review my original estimation several times. Further we are left to guess what exactly are the powers possessed by both Crowe and Clara, and the nature of this secret society. This can be a useful technique, helping retain interest but I think here it is ultimately overplayed with too little revealed too late for the reader to keep up momentum and realize the significance of previous events. The descriptive detail is both captivating and at times unrelenting with many events not followed up or being of any great significance and I wonder if some judicious editing wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Having said that, this is a remarkable debut novel that is, for the most part, a joy to read and made me want to underline some sections so I could return to them (only my innate reverence for books prevented me). In particular the sections on the swans on the lake and the rose responding to the impetus to grow and bloom are sublime. I have no hesitation in recommending this slow burning novel that was so exquisitely detailed and observed that at times it seemed that I was no longer merely reading, but there as it played out. No mean feat.