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The White Devil

May 16, 2011

When I saw The White Devil, by Justin Evans, on a list of books that Harper was willing to send me for review, I couldn’t resist–even though it’s a ghost story and I usually shy away from anything scary. But it’s about Byron…

And it turned out to be one of those mysteries where what happens is driven by a character finding out more about Byron’s life.  Mmm, total catnip for an English major.  If I could have, I’d have read the whole thing in one pleasant afternoon.  But deadlines and kids’ awards ceremonies intervened, and I ended up having to put it down twice, which was two more times than I would have otherwise.

As Jenny observes, this novel has a lot of plot elements, and I think that’s what kept me reading. If I got a little tired of one story line, maybe the teenage boy’s puerile meanderings about his relationship with his father, there would soon be another one along to keep me going down the track toward finding out more about Byron’s relationship with the ghost.

He’s a malevolent ghost, and it’s not until a scene at the very end that you find out a little bit about why Byron could have loved him.  In the meantime, though, you get some impressions of life in a British boarding school, the realism of which may be due to the author’s own year at Harrow.  I like the comparison of the attitude of students to their British teachers and their American ones–at Harrow,

“the banter was larded with respectful Sirs, seasoned with eager, show-offy anecdotes from the newly risen Sixth Formers. All this was friendly, even affectionate…”

while at the American school,

“the baby boomer faculty who had chosen such a low-paying career as teaching were treated with suppressed contempt by the students, children of Wall Streeters, who knew that grades didn’t matter, didn’t help you make millions; that these teachers, then, must be little better than servants.”

When Andrew, the American, comes to Harrow, he is told that he looks like Lord Byron and should therefore act his part in the play that a poet and housemaster is writing, about which of Byron’s many sexual partners could be shown to be the love of his life.  The ghost wants that distinction, and he wants Andrew.

So Andrew has to find out what part this ghost might have played in Byron’s life, and who he might have wanted to kill, in order to keep his friends alive.

I particularly enjoy the poet’s reply to one of Andrew’s questions:

“Ah, children, who want to know what poems mean.  They don’t mean. They express. They are songs. When you sympathize, you make them mean something….”

I have to admit that I read up until the last few chapters and then put the book aside to finish in the morning, as is my habit if I read anything that might be scary. But I could have gone ahead and read it; it wraps things up nicely without adding anything too horrific.

This was a nice little piece of fiction-candy, suitable for popping all in your mouth at once; one of those attractive, light-colored candies with a dark, chewy center.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2011 9:04 am

    Nice theme! 🙂 This review reminds me that I keep meaning to ask you if you’ve ever read Carol Shields’ Swann. Possibly my favorite novel set in academia, but most academics I know don’t seem to have heard of it. Also based around a dead poet.

    • May 16, 2011 11:34 am

      I have not read Swann, although have liked other novels by Carol Shields. Guess I’d better put it on my list of books to find!

      • May 17, 2011 1:12 pm

        I think you will like it. It’s not very long. I stumbled on it on my shelf the other day and was thinking I should reread it.

  2. freshhell permalink
    May 16, 2011 9:20 am

    This is nice. I like it.

  3. May 16, 2011 9:31 am

    I like the clean look here. I also prefer WordPress’s functionality to blogger since my switch.

    • May 16, 2011 11:33 am

      what I most want is the ability to reply to comments individually, like this

      • May 16, 2011 5:40 pm

        I like the feature you mention, as well as the spam catcher. and ease of commenting in general when both bloggers are wp. AND that when you click on my comment icon to go back to my blog you get my blog and not the id page of blogspot. Quicker, direct.

  4. May 16, 2011 5:38 pm

    I LOVE wordpress!!!!


    • May 16, 2011 6:02 pm

      Care, I’m not sure yet; it takes me a while to commit to a new relationship!

  5. May 17, 2011 8:49 am

    Nice theme, I like the colors. Welcome to WordPress!

  6. May 24, 2011 11:51 am

    I stayed up all night reading Justin Evan’s first book. I did not have your wisdom, and read past the point of no return! I’m eager to get my hands on this one.

    • May 24, 2011 2:23 pm

      Hmm, sounds like I need to find his first book for when I have time for something compelling. It really wasn’t wisdom that made me save the ending, though; it was fear of nightmares.

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