Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, August 11, 2018

“The Maze at Windermere” by Gregory Blake Smith



The Maze at Windermere is an ambitious novel that doesn't tell just one story, but five different ones:

Sandy Alison, former pro tennis player who once cracked the top 50 but by 2011 is pretty much a has-been, is also poised to crack his way into a spot with richest families in Newport, Rhode Island. If only he had the killer instinct.

Franklin Drexel, a charming bachelor in 1896 who mingles with the upper echelon but knows he'll soon need to marry into it in order to continue with the life that pleases him, also knows he needs to continue to keep his biggest secret.

A young Henry James, just dipping his toe into his literary career in 1863, struggles with the desire to record life rather than living it.

British officer Major Ballard lusts after the beautiful young Jewish daughter of a Portuguese merchant living in America during the hostilities of 1778, and he is cold and calculating in his strategy for seducing her. And he does have a killer instinct.

Fifteen-year-old Prudence Selwyn finds herself orphaned, in charge of her baby sister and their small household, when their father is lost at sea in 1692.

What links all these stories that are so disparate in time and characters? The maze at Windermere. (Or, more broadly, the town of Newport). Every storyline takes place there. I thought for sure there would be some sort of time travel or the maze would play a larger part, but this isn't that kind of book. Instead, the maze is just a link that loosely binds the stories together in place if not in time.

But (apart from being an ambitious novel) this is also also a novel of ambition. Each character is discovering and recognizing what they want from life, and slowly learning what they are willing to do to realize their dreams.

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially as it took on a breakneck pace towards the end with the stories more quickly interleaved, but I was a little bit sad when I finished reading and didn't really know what the future held for any of the characters! (At least I have Wikipedia to help me out with Henry James.) Each character was left with several options and I don't know which they chose. But although I wanted to know the answers, it's probably better this way. I'm left to speculate and wonder rather than being disappointed or dissatisfied.