Conscience Point, By Erica Abeel
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Publication Date: October 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
This is my first time reading anything by Erica Abeel and the fact that I have already placed an order for her first book should clue you in a little bit on how much I enjoyed this deceptively short modern gothic novel.
When we first meet Madeleine Shaye her life has already fallen apart, and she is contemplating the hows and whys of this as she sits and attempts to write a memoir, which slips from first person into third when she discovers her story is too painful to tell from up close. She finds that for most of her story, she needs to have some distance.
Though she can never truly pinpoint when it all starts to go wrong, she gets a big wake-up call while she is vacationing with her boyfriend, wealthy socialite and book publisher, Nick Ashcroft. When he tells her that he not only regrets not having a child, but that he would like to have a child- even though she already has a college aged daughter, and their plans have never included children, Madeline is rocked to her core. She wonders what is really driving this sudden announcement. At home she finds that her adopted daughter, Laila, darkly hints at wanting to run off and move to Guatemala and she struggles to stay relevant in her dual career as a pianist a high brow music tv correspondent. It’s hard to hold everything together when it decides to fall apart all at once.
Conscience Point is an ambitious novel in a lot of ways. The language is rich and dense while being haunting and beautiful. It has its own particular cadences and rhythms. I have to admit that I struggled with this the beginning. In addition, it is very, very smart. The barbs and the social commentary buzz along underneath each sentence and with each exchange between the characters. If at any point I was tempted to put this down, it was in the beginning where I was a bit overwhelmed by the language and all that was going on. Abeel chooses to move back and forth through the past and present, letting the story unfold in smart little pieces. Once I was able to get my bearing, I was hooked. There were so many surprise and turns of plot as the story winds it way through to its conclusion, which truly kept me guessing.
Just one of the places where Abeel excels is in characterization, and not just with the people, but with places- like the gothic old house and estate of Conscience Point, its inhabitants, but also different subjects. Madeline Shaye’s life is deeply submerged in music and that aspect is richly explored in the novel through beautiful descriptions of classical music, the lives of George Sand, her lover Chopin and Madeline’s intense relationship with her old friend and fellow musician Anton. I love the way I really got to the characters in all their good points, flaws and complexities.
Throughout the novel, I had uneasy suspicions of what was coming next, so there was always this wonderfully disturbing tension as I was reading, and I was never disappointed whether I was on the right track or the wrong one. Even in suspecting what was going on, there is so many delicious twists and surprises that you always only know half of the story. This novel reaches out and touches so many genres that whether you’re looking for Gothic, suspense, mystery, romance or a literary novel, you’ve come to the right place.
About the Author: Erica Abeel is the author of four books, including Women Like Us (Book of the Month Club selection); The Last Romance; I’ll Call You Tomorrow and Other Lies between Men and Women; and Only When I Laugh, a memoir (Literary Guild selection). Abeel has frequently published articles and reviews in The NY Times, NYTBR, etc. A former dancer, Abeel was, until recently, Professor of French literature at City University of New York. She currently writes film reviews, features, and a “Critic’s Notebook” (covering Cannes, Toronto, and other major festivals) for Filmmaker Magazine, indieWIRE.com, Film Journal International and Interview. Last May she blogged daily for Filmmaker Magazine from Cannes, blogged and wrote a Critic’s Notebook for Filmmaker during the New York Film Festival.
Visit Erica Abeel’s Website.
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