Friday, April 4, 2008

Henry James' Midnight Song by Carol De Chellis Hill

It has been a very hectic couple of months for me with lots of classes in the library so it has taken a while to finish this incredibly crafted novel. To assign a genre to the book would prove most difficult as it is a combination of gothic, historical fiction, mystery, satire, and philosophical and social critique. The setting is fin de siecle Vienna with a cast of well-known characters that include Edith Wharton, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and of course, Henry James. A mysterious manuscript that details the story when it is delivered to an isolated cabin in Maine. Women in Vienna are being murdered and notes have been left that add further intrigue to the story. And then another murder, a corpse is found at 91 Bergstrasse, the home of Freud by his wife and the hysterical maid and disappears as fast. Was it really there? Special Investigator Maurice LeBlanc is recalled from Paris to investigate the murders and arrives on the scene that leads him to the Countess von Gerzl's house and a family from the states that is staying with her. The characters become so intertwined that eventually they are all suspects in the murder. Deeper into the novel are the themes of feminism, antisemitism, nihilism, and even a prediction of Hitler's rise to power. The ending was totally unpredictable and had me guessing right to the end.
I was fascinated with the historical setting and am curious to read further about Henry James and Edith Wharton. It really was great read packed with literary, philosophical, scenic references. Carol De Chellis Hill includes scholarly footnotes of explanation that are really a part of the manuscript that professor relates. Definitely a stimulating read and one that will rank among my favorites.

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