Monday, July 30, 2012

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

     In the spring of 1950, Coral Glynn takes a job in the English countryside as a live-in nurse for Mrs. Edith Hart, an elderly woman dying of cancer.  Life at Hart House is quiet, isolated, and uneventful, so Coral is surprised to find companionship with Mrs. Hart's son, Clement.  Clement was injured during the war and has turned into somewhat of a recluse since then.  Except for a few local friends, Clement's only social interactions consist of his polite, but awkward conversations with Coral.  When Mrs. Hart dies, Coral prepares to leave Hart House, but is stunned when Clement proposes marriage.  She has very few friends and no family, so she reluctantly accepts - but the prospect of new beginnings is darkened when Coral is identified as a suspect in a local crime.  Her quiet, simple life is abruptly shattered by a series of miscommunications, and the bizarre subsequent events send Coral on a strange journey of memory, discovery, and self-preservation.

     Coral Glynn is a very odd little book.  At just over 200 pages, the novel is short, but the changes among the few characters is drastic - especially for Coral.  Combining aspect of gothic romance, tragedy, and dark humor, Peter Cameron's novel is unpredictable, but very compelling.

     More than anything, Coral Glynn is about the consequences of social red tape, decorum, and miscommunication - specifically for women of this era.  Coral's life has been shaped by a series of traumas, and she is ill-equipped to handle the startling events surrounding Hart House.  With a lack of self-confidence and very little sense of security, Coral is easily persuaded and bombarded by conflicting advice.  Cameron's prose is succinct and the characters are sightly underdeveloped, but the book still manages to be curiously magnetic, and Coral never ceases to be a fascinating, mystifying character.

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