The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
Kim Edwards is most famous for The Memory Keeper’s Daughter which I have picked up and put down again numerous times since it was published in 2006. I love the sound of the story but as a mother, I have a feeling it will make me cry and will have to be in a certain mood to give it a go! If you believe Amazon reviewers in general however, that is the better of the two works. I can’t now remember how I came to be in possession of this one. For me to forget, it must have been on my shelf for quite some time before the time felt ‘right’ to read it.
The blurb says:
The darkest secrets are the ones we hide from ourselves.
Ten years ago, traumatized by her father’s death, Lucy left her home and her country. Now she returns to her family’s rambling lakeside home to lay old ghosts to rest.
Sleepless one night, Lucy makes a momentous discovery. Locked in a moonlit window seat is a collection of family heirlooms – objects whose secrets no one was ever supposed to find. Piecing together her family’s true history, she realizes that she story she has always been told was a fiction.
Mesmerizing and haunting, The Lake of Dreams is a startling story of family secrets and lies, lost love and redemption, and of the many pieces of the puzzles that make up a life.
The story is told through the eyes of Lucy who at the beginning of the novel leaves her current abode and boyfriend in Japan and returns to her family home in The Lake of Dreams (yes, that’s the name of the town) to visit her mother and brother. There she makes this ‘momentous discovery’, which is basically a bundle of documents that allude to the existence of a previously unheard of family member (Rose) who was born in 1895. The rest of the novel is given over to her pursuit of the truth and the rest of her family story.
The ‘momentous discovery’ makes it sound very grand. It was more of a ‘mildly interesting discovery’ for me. From the blurb, I was eagerly awaiting some truly horrific family secrets to emerge and was left sorely disappointed. Although the reasons behind Rose being written out of the Jarrett family history is explained (sort of), it never became the gripping story I was expecting it to be. Sad? Yes, I suppose so but dramatic? No.
I would also dispute that these were documents ‘no one was ever supposed to find’. The Jarrett family is renowned for being able to pick locks and yet they were found in a locked window seat. In the family home. Hmm.
Anyway, the Jarrett story is interwoven with that of another family – the Westrum’s who are most famous for the legacy left behind by Frank Westrum (of the same generation as Rose) who created stunningly beautiful stained glass windows. Glass is a recurring theme in this novel but despite thinking about it for a few hours, I can’t honestly come up with a plausible reason as to why that might be. It is through an emblem on one of Frank’s windows that Lucy draws a link between the two families and the truth begins to emerge. The descriptions of the stained glass are truly beautiful and in fact Edwards’ descriptions in general are very evocative. I particularly like:
‘Something about that night was still loose, untethered, flitting through my thoughts. In this stillness I could sense it, like the brush of air from a wing’.
Despite the breathtaking descriptive detail (or maybe partly because of it?) it took me over two weeks to finish this 400 page novel, which is a long time for me. In the meantime, I started two other books which is a clear sign that I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to open it each night. I did actually consider ditching it altogether more than once, but had read over 100 pages by that stage and felt it would be a real waste not to see it through. I did also kind of, want to know how it ended.
But boy did the middle drag. Edwards could have produced a far tighter story in 80 pages less and not lost anything of value from the story. For example, the very brief secondary love-interest angle could have been removed completely and actually, I would have preferred it. The pace did quicken slightly in the second half of the novel though where some of the story comes from letters written by Rose. I enjoyed these parts and warmed to Rose’s voice far more than to that of Lucy. There were other characters that I liked too – both the Reverend Suzi and Lucy’s mum were pretty cool.
Perhaps part of my problem is that I do find stories with a strong genealogical theme quite complicated to follow and this was certainly no exception. For them to work really well, I need to be introduced to all the important characters slowly, and given something to not only remember them by, but which distinguishes them from each other. In this novel I was repeatedly confused by all the different grandfather’s and great-grandfathers and it certainly didn’t help that the author named the eldest male in each of the four generations covered by the story, Joseph. I’m normally all for historical authenticity, but seriously, four Joseph’s are too much for anyone! It would also have been far more helpful if the family tree had been printed at the beginning of the book so that I knew it was there to refer to. As it happens I didn’t find it until I’d finished (how many readers flick to the back of a book before reading??) which is way too late Ms Edwards. I’ve lost interest by then. That boat has well and truly sailed.
At one point quite near the end of the book, Lucy’s boyfriend Yoshi points out to Lucy that Rose’s story is of less interest to him as someone looking in on the family from the outside. I was mentally cheering ‘hear hear’ at this point. If the author concedes that it isn’t overly interesting to the protagonist’s boyfriend, she was going to have to work pretty hard to make it interesting to a complete stranger. I did enjoy parts of it but in general, I felt it had fantastic potential which was never fully realised. It didn’t quite hit the spot for me and I’m writing this as soon as I finished it as I know it will be one of those ‘in one ear, out the other’ reads.
I enjoyed it more than Bel Canto and I did like her descriptions as well as Rose’s letters but I was glad when it was finished. I’m torn between a 2 and a 3, so it’ll have to be a 2.5/5.