White Stone Day by John MacLachlan Gray

DATE FINISHED: March 15th, 2011

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS: In Oxford, a young reverend finds amusement in entertaining his colleagues daughters with riddles, stories and photography. In London, a literally down at heel journalist finds himself investigating a séance only to receive an unexpected message from his deceased brother, followed by finding himself falsely imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. These disparate & seemingly unconnected storylines intertwine into a compelling period mystery.

THOUGHTS: Gray’s fictionalised portrait of Lewis Carroll is unmistakable, and I think remarkably well done, even down to the poetry-after-the-style-of. I was relieved that despite a plot largely based around child pornography/photography, Gray did not succumb to making Carroll/Boltbyn the villain of the piece, and in fact painted a very sympathetic picture, despite the scandal that has historically dogged Carroll’s friendship with the young Alice Liddeell. But this msytery novel is far more than an homage to/veiled biography of Carroll. The chapters spliced between the Oxford ‘idyll’ actually kept me equally entertained, with wonderful descriptions of life in Victorian London told lightly, and best of all with a deadpan, self-deprecating wit. This was my second reading of ‘White Stone Day’ and I enjoyed it even more than first time around. Gray manages to tell a distasteful tale without leaving a sour taste in the mouth, and in fact leaving the reader anxiously awaiting a second helping.

FOLLOWING ON: Again, the fraudulent spiritualist theme recurs, reminding of ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters and ‘The Prestige’ by Christopher Priest.  An interesting category is the fictionalised historical author, which can also be found in ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey and ‘Arthur and George’ by Julian Barnes.  Re-reading ‘White Stone Day’ made me want to read more Lewis Carroll-influenced fiction, which led me to add some more titles to my to-read list: ‘Still She Haunts Me’ by Katie Roiphe, ‘Alice I have Been’ by Melanie Benjamin and ‘The Final Alice’ by Alycia Ripley.  Oh, to complete the oeuvre, there is also ‘Dream Children’ by A. N. Wilson which is a cold and unpleasant read which I cannot recommend in the slightest.

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