ghost stories

I was longing for a good novel, preferably one of those good British ghost stories since the Brits seem to do those so well. I was at the library skimming one of those "Upcoming Books" newspapers that the libe always has, and came across a little article about The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood. It said he is Australian, and this is his first novel:
Gerard Freeman, at age ten, sneaks into his mother's room and unlocks a secret drawer, only to find a picture of a woman he has never seen before, but one that he will find again and again. His mother discovers him and gives him the beating of his life. Why this excessive reaction? She is a worried, paranoid, thin, and fretful type with an "anxious, haunted look." By tale's end, we know why.

Phyllis Freeman, Gerard's mother, was happiest when speaking fondly of Staplefield, her childhood home, where there were things they "didnt have in Mawson [Australia], chaffinches and mayflies and foxgloves and hawthorn, coopers and farriers and old Mr. Bartholomew who delivered fresh milk and eggs to their house with his horse and cart." It's the sort of childhood idyll that the timid and lonely Gerard believes in and longs for. He strikes up a correspondence with an English "penfriend," Alice Jessel, when he is 13 and a half, living in a desolate place with a frantic mother and a silent father. She is his age, her parents were killed in an accident and she has been crippled by it. She now lives in an institution, whose grounds she describes as much the way Staplefield looked. They go through young adulthood together, in letters only, thousands of miles apart, eventually declaring their love for one another.

Interwoven with the narrative of Alice and Gerard's letters are real ghost stories, the creation of Gerard's great-grandmother, Viola. At first, they seem to be scary Victorian tales of the supernatural. Then, we see that they have a spooky way of mirroring, or preceding, events in real life, off the page. Gerard comes upon them, one by one, in mysterious ways, but clearly something, or someone, is leading him. The stories seem to implicate his mother in some nefarious goings-on, but the truth is far worse than Gerard imagines.
I guess an Australian writing about British ghosts is close enough. A quick check of the card catalog and I find that it is in, somewhere among the recently returned books. The librarian dug it out of the pile for me and I stashed it for a couple of days. I started reading it last night, about 2:00 am, after I finished getting up a placeholder page ( that turned out to be a little more complex than I'd anticipated (part of it is in Spanish). I figured I'd read for an hour or so.

At 7:30 am, I put the book down. The spirit was willing to keep reading, but the eyes just wouldn't stay open. I'm finished with Part One and looking forward to the rest of the book. The writing is quite good, especially considering it's really two styles of writing: modern day and Victorian era, by a Victorian woman no less. The main character's grandmother, or I think it was his grandmother, wrote ghost stories, which Harwood actually provides instead of alluding to (which I think is great). And he's good at writing in the styles of both eras.

I rarely read the night through any more, mainly because my "Want to Do, Need to Do" lists are longer than my days. I succumbed last night, paying the penance today of a not-enough-sleep headache. The book just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I'm at the point where I'm wild to finish it (though I can't read through the night again -- have to get up early tomorrow), but also dreading the end. Because it will be over. I hope the second half is as good as the first half promises.

This site looks very interesting, and I'm trying to remember to explore it more: Renegade Gardener. The RG is Don Engebretson.

One of the RG's 10 Tenets of Gardening is "Renegade Gardeners come to realize that lawns are essentially a dumb idea." Which I agree with. I love our backyard when the mowing gets pushed off (either due to lots of rain or extreme busy-ness) and turns into a meadow. This spring it was gorgeous, with all kinds of wildflowers that I don't remember seeing in the yard before. I would love to get rid of even more of the lawn area by planting tall grasses and more wildflowers. Maybe along the edges.

My father, on the other hand, works diligently to make his lawn ever larger. But that's another tale.

Anyway, the RG is really geared for gardeners in zones 2-4, and we're in zone 6, but there's a lot of good information there, and tips on landscaping that I wish more people would read.

We're going out to brunch with our friend Helene and, hopefully we'll get to the Town House Museum here in Norwalk, which currently has an exhibit about the Great Fire (I think it's when the British burned down the town during the Revolution). It's only open on Sundays between 1 and 4. I've been thinking about going to this little museum area for only about ten years or so. It's actually part of the Mill Hill Historic Park and Museum, run by the Norwalk Historical Society (the website is horrible, but it does have some information about the place) and has a name that's much grander than the square acreage of the site itself. It has three buildings: Town House (c. 1835), Little Red School House (c. 1826), and Governor Fitch Law Office (c.1740). I know nothing about these buildings, yet, or much about local Revolutionary War history. Norwalk is famous for being the birthplace of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which pre-dated the Revolution by 20 years.

I hope the visit is interesting. I wonder if they have more information about our house, which was originally an outbuilding on the Norwalk Poor Farm, built c. 1826. It's a true Yankee house now as owners over the years have added to it as necessary, in the most economical way possible -- not shoddy, just Yankee. It's got a bit of a bizarre layout to it, but I think that's what I love about it. I would love to find some old sketches or photos of the house, preWWII or even earlier would be wonderful.
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