In Kris Waldherr’s debut novel The Lost History of Dreams, a post-mortem photographer unearths dark secrets of the past that may hold the key to his future, in the gothic tradition of Wuthering Heights and The Thirteenth Tale.
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The Lost History of Dreams Synopsis:
All love stories are ghost stories in disguise.
When famed Byronesque poet Hugh de Bonne is discovered dead of a heart attack in his bath one morning, his cousin Robert Highstead, a historian turned post-mortem photographer, is charged with a simple task: transport Hugh’s remains for burial in a chapel. This chapel, a stained glass folly set on the moors of Shropshire, was built by de Bonne sixteen years earlier to house the remains of his beloved wife and muse, Ada. Since then, the chapel has been locked and abandoned, a pilgrimage site for the rabid fans of de Bonne’s last book, The Lost History of Dreams.
However, Ada’s grief-stricken niece refuses to open the glass chapel for Robert unless he agrees to her bargain: before he can lay Hugh to rest, Robert must record Isabelle’s story of Ada and Hugh’s ill-fated marriage over the course of five nights.
As the mystery of Ada and Hugh’s relationship unfolds, so does the secret behind Robert’s own marriage—including that of his fragile wife, Sida, who has not been the same since the tragic accident three years ago, and the origins of his own morbid profession that has him seeing things he shouldn’t—things from beyond the grave.
Kris Waldherr effortlessly spins a sweeping and atmospheric gothic mystery about love and loss that blurs the line between the past and the present, truth and fiction, and ultimately, life and death.
(Atria Books (April 2019), 320 pages)
I have read few gothic novels recently, but The Lost History of Dreams has reawakened my appreciation for the genre.
Through the eyes of her bereft yet decorous leading man Robert, Waldherr has evoked the sights, sounds and hardships of life in early 1800s Paris and London. The atmospheric isolated windswept moors of Shropshire, are the central story setting; the location of Ada’s Folly and childhood home Weald House.
All houses have a story to tell, Isabelle began. Some houses are akin to fairy tales, as many claim of Ada’s Folly. Other houses are structured like poems, with rooms devoted to beauty but lacking in function. However, only a few houses offer ghost stories. They’re built to be trampled by sorrow and loss. And that’s what you’ll find deep within the very walls and doors of Weald House: a ghost story begun from love.
Fallen into disrepair, this house is as much a character in this novel as its enigmatic matriarch Miss Isabelle Lowell.
Hope, Mr Highstead, is the most unsatisfying of meals. It grants the appearance of substance but melts like ice in the mouth.
Tales within tales
The poetic verse peppered throughout and the character’s enthrallingly deceptive revelations, kept me swiftly turning the pages. Enjoy an unreliable narrator? They are aplenty in this novel.
But for all the enchanting wordplay, there were moments of verbosity that broke The Lost History of Dreams‘ spell.
Deep within the yew perched the most exquisite raven Robert had ever seen. Her ebony-tufted head was a curve of harmony. Eyes dark as coal. Feathers gleaming with a cobalt-tinged iridescence, like they’d been woven from nightfall.
I’ll admit to being stumped by ‘curve of harmony’… While quite beautiful in isolation, groupings of artful descriptors such as this felt a little weighty in this novel’s mid-section. A minor weakness in what is a highly successful fiction debut.
Kris Waldherr’s The Lost History of Dreams offers lovers of historical fiction, words and poetry an immersive, dare I say bewitching reading experience.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Mystery, Drama, Romance, Historical
About the Author, Kris Waldherr
Kris Waldherr is an award-winning author, illustrator, and designer. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, and her fiction has been awarded with fellowships by the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts and a reading grant by Poets & Writers. Kris Waldherr works and lives in Brooklyn in a Victorian-era house with her husband Thomas Ross Miller and their daughter. Check out Kris’ website and connect with her on Twitter.
* Receiving a copy for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.Updated