“Coral Glynn” by Peter Cameron, a New Gothic Novel

“Coral Glynn” by Peter Cameron  (2012) – 210 pages

 Can a novel, or for that matter a novelist, be just too perfect?  That is a question I asked myself while listening to “Coral Glynn” on audio book. Peter Cameron is a careful exact writer, and I definitely plan to read more of his novels.  He painstakingly chooses each precise word.  I paid rapt attention to nearly every word while listening to “Coral Glynn”, because it is so well constructed and beautifully written.  It is a wonder that I didn’t like ‘Coral Glynn’ even more than I did. 

 Sometimes I wished Cameron would give himself permission to lose control, let himself go.  I don’t mean that he should have gone hog wild like James Joyce with his streams of consciousness or like Malcolm Lowry with his alcoholic revelries (reveries?) or like Jack Kerouac with his rhapsodies about just any old thing.  I just wished there was more evidence there was a living, breathing, fallible human being who was writing “Coral Glynn”.

 Originally I assumed the novel was taking place immediately after World War I until there were hints that the events were actually occurring after World War II.  This is an old fashioned Gothic story, and the characters in “Coral Glynn” seem also old-fashioned, not of this modern world. Most of the characters in “Coral Glynn” could have fit in nicely into a novel written a hundred years ago.   These characters in “Coral Glynn” are almost stereotypically Gothic.  You have the vulnerable young woman, the war-injured Major still living with his mother, the nosy busybody housekeeper, the gloomy house and forest.  It was almost like a breath of fresh air when Lazlo, a guy with an original sense of humor, shows up in the novel.       

 I’d like to compare Peter Cameron to one of my favorite most careful United States writers, Richard Yates, author of “Revolutionary Road”, “The Easter Parade”, etc.  While reading both Yates and Cameron, you get a strong sense that they are aiming for perfection in the words and stories they choose and that they frequently attain it.  I would call both Yates and Cameron “writers’ writers”, the type of writer other writers admire for their polished technique.  Sometimes you wish they would just relax, let up for a change.  The difference between Yates and Cameron is that Yates brings much needed order to messy messed-up modern life, while Cameron’s story here is so old-fashioned as to be almost fusty.        

 I did like “Coral Glynn” a lot, but at the same time it seemed almost too tidy, elaborately contrived to fit in to the Gothic mold.  Next time I read Cameron, I’m going to look for a novel of his set in the modern world, that doesn’t fit so snugly into the Gothic framework.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Amritorupa Kanjilal on March 23, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    So a novel CAN be too perfect! All the same, I really like books about the gothic era, the more stereotypical the better, so I might try this one.

    Do you like audio books more than paper books tony? I’ve never tried one…
    Oh, and new post at http://riversihaveknown.wordpress.com/


  2. Hi Amrita,
    Yes, too perfect, or maybe I should have said ‘too carefully written’.
    I have a 27 mile commute each way too and from work, so have lots of time to listen to audiobooks. In a lot of ways, it ‘s like reading – some books I really like, others not so much. I used to ride the train to work too and can remember certain books that made me uncomfortable if others saw the cover too.


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