From the author of The Uninvited comes a haunting historical novel with a compelling mystery at its core. A young child psychologist steps off a train, her destination a foggy seaside town. There, she begins a journey causing her to question everything she believes about life, death, memories, and reincarnation.
In 1925, Alice Lind steps off a train in the rain-soaked coastal hamlet of Gordon Bay, Oregon. There, she expects to do nothing more difficult than administer IQ tests to a group of rural schoolchildren. A trained psychologist, Alice believes mysteries of the mind can be unlocked scientifically, but now her views are about to be challenged by one curious child.
Seven-year-old Janie O’Daire is a mathematical genius, which is surprising. But what is disturbing are the stories she tells: that her name was once Violet, she grew up in Kansas decades earlier, and she drowned at age nineteen. Alice delves into these stories, at first believing they’re no more than the product of the girl’s vast imagination. But, slowly, Alice comes to the realization that Janie might indeed be telling a strange truth.
Alice knows the investigation may endanger her already shaky professional reputation, and as a woman in a field dominated by men she has no room for mistakes. But she is unprepared for the ways it will illuminate terrifying mysteries within her own past, and in the process, irrevocably change her life.
From HarperCollins Via Edelweiss in exchange for a review. This is an uncorrected proof, and not for resale – something I was made (painfully) aware of, since a page repeating this message was inserted in between every single one of the 33 chapters (and the 4 sections). Alright already – I got the message! In between the sections, fine! But between each and every chapter as well….way to go HarperCollins to tell me you don’t trust me enough to remember it’s a proof!
And the word we’re looking for is Anyway….
When the book starts, it’s the mid 1920s and Alice Lind, still trying to find her way in a male dominated work environment, arrives in the Gordon Bay, Oregon. Whilst she’s there to perform tests on the whole school, she is also there at the request of the O’Daire family to concentrate on the daughter Jaine. The parents have split and it’s the father, Michael, who is most interested in the results. He is divorced from Jaine’s mother, and it becomes clear there is a certain level of madness running in the mother’s side of the family, where she could be kindly be described as “on edge” and paranoid, especially in relation to her daughter. It seems that Jaine believes she is reincarnated and remembers drowning in a lake at the age of 19, being watched by a man on the side of the lake, in a town and state she’s never visited. Apart from these shocking details, she remembers the name of the town she used to live in (though the parents insist she has never been there), and that she had a sister called Eleanor.
Alice finds Jaine exceptionally bright and possibly already a mathematical genius at the age of 7. Trying to navigate a fine line with all the family members, Alice starts to do some digging including talking to her sister, who is a librarian in another state. Alice is also conscious that as a small child of 4, she attacked some family members with a stick as large as she was, causing some extreme damage to her victims, and noone ever understood why.
As an adult, Alice also has to deal with the fact that she is now a modern woman in a time where women rarely work, especially in male dominated industries such as science, and certainly not a society that condones women who enjoy sex, especially outside of marriage. Alice has had several sexual partners since being in college, both of whom have let her down, in particular the one who got her pregnant (she suffered a miscarriage after 4 months).
The second section of the book is Alice at home for Thanksgiving and receiving confirmation that Eleanor does in fact exist, and is welcome to come visit. In fact the whole family goes, as Michael is not trusted by the rest of the family to not kidnap the child. Finally they go visit and Jaine’s story matches up with Eleanor’s too much to be coincidence (though there are things amiss – such as her not recognising the house). The situation convinces Alice, and the rest of the family, that Janie is not mad, and that reincarnation is a possible event. The family make a decision about what happens next, much to Michael’s annoyance.
In part three, with the rest of the O’Daires having departed for pastures new, Alice decides to go onwards to find the Hotel Yesternight, and Michael goes with her. Both pretend that they are a married couple, and check into the hotel just before Christmas Day. The Gundersons who now run the hotel, are prepared to tell the story of the hotel, in a tone matching the bad weather outside, and the reduced facilities inside. Nerves already on edge, Alice finds much of her own story matching that of the original owner who succumbed to “prairie madness” and killed an untold number of people before being shot in the heart by investigators. The story unnerves her and Michael, which leads to a catastrophic event that evening.
Part Four is a single chapter long – It’s a number of years later, and Alice is slowly coming to terms with what happened. She is still working (full time in a school, rather than the nomadic lifestyle she had before). Whilst she has convinced herself that her believing reincarnation was a foolish stance, something happens that makes her doubt everything – again.
I’ve tried to keep the summary as short as possible and with minimal spoilers, but there is a lot going on, and it is hard to keep it short. It was interesting way of showing how to get information in a relatively technical world (so telegrams and phones were available) but long before the internet and google maps. The delay in getting confirmation of information led to the inevitable build up in tension, especially around Alice not being able to fit things into the boxes she wanted.