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Book Club: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
#1
There was no more feedback in the thread where a book club was suggested by Bronte, so following the Dutch adagium "Wie zwijgt, stemt toe" (He who says nothing, agrees. Is there an English equivalent?), I'm herewith setting up the first book club discussion! Smile

The book for the first round will be Carol Goodman's "Arcadia Falls".

Here is a review I found.

Meg Rosenthal is driving toward the next chapter in her life. Winding along a wooded roadway, her car moves through a dense forest setting not unlike one in the bedtime stories Meg used to read to her daughter, Sally. But the girl riding beside Meg is a teenager now, and has exchanged the land of make-believe for an iPod and some personal space. Too much space, it seems, as the chasm between them has grown since the sudden, unexpected death of Meg’s husband.

Dire financial straits and a desire for a fresh start take Meg and Sally from a comfortable life on Long Island to a tucked-away hamlet in upstate New York: Arcadia Falls, where Meg has accepted a teaching position at a boarding school. The creaky, neglected cottage Meg and Sally are to call home feels like an ill portent of things to come, but Meg is determined to make the best of it—and to make a good impression on the school’s dean, the diminutive, elegant Ivy St. Clare.

St. Claire, however, is distracted by a shocking crisis: During Arcadia’s First Night bonfire, one of Meg’s folklore students, Isabel Cheney, plunges to her death in a campus gorge. Sheriff Callum Reade finds Isabel’s death suspicious, but then, he is a man with secrets and a dark past himself.

Meg is unnerved by Reade’s interest in the girl’s death, and as long-buried secrets emerge, she must face down her own demons and the danger threatening to envelop Sally. As the past clings tight to the present, the shadows, as if in a terrifying fairy tale, grow longer and deadlier.

In Arcadia Falls, award-winning author Carol Goodman deftly weaves a mesmerizing narrative of passion: for revenge, for art, for love.

Enjoy!
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#2
Sounds like a good one, Charybdis. And shock of shocks, my library has it!
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#3
I'm not finished with the book yet (just at 1/3), but I would like to say something about foreign languages. So often I find that when an author uses other languages in her book he/she doesn't research this enough. Which surprises me as I would say nothing is more easy than to find out how things are written and what the correct translation is in the other language. Doesn't the author care and thinks most readers won't find out because they probably don't know the language themselves?

Carol Goodman uses Dutch words in this book and well, you could say I'm an expert on that subject. Wink
She talks about "wittewieven" and says it means "white woman". Not so. "Witte wieven" (note the space between the two words) means "white women", so she should have said "wit wief".

Another strange thing is that she uses the word "clove" for the chasm in the mountain. This comes from the Dutch "kloof". Why not leave the Dutch word in place? The full name of the chasm is "Witte clove", a combination of a Dutch word and an English word. Doesn't seem logical.
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#4
I just finished with the book and I think there's a lot in it that can be discussed in this book club thread. If people are still interested? I hope Bronte isn't offended that I sort-off hijacked her idea. Please forgive me for being impatient and presumptious. I hope other forumites will start new book club threads as well. The more the better!

Anyway, back to Arcadia Falls. I'll assume no spoiler tags are necessary in book club threads?

I found the book an interesting read and I was intrigued to see how things would end. This was my second Carol Goodman book and I noticed a lot of similarities: teacher with child as heroine, boarding school, ominous setting is nature, several stories with each their own mystery layered together.

As in "The lake of dead languages" the heroine didn't get sympathetic at all. She was a bit of a know-it-all. Though she acted loving towards her daughter, this teenager was resentful and sometimes even hateful, for which the readers are given no real reason. At the end of the book the daughter suddenly admits she loves mom and all's well that ends well.

The ominous setting is the woods surrounding the boarding school. Meg gets to live in an old cottage some 15 minutes' walk from the school so there's a lot of time to be impressed by the beauty, eeriness, changes etc. in the forest.
One of the story layers is a fairytale situated in exactly these woods and you get to imagine how the cottage was a witch's house, girls turn into trees and vice versa, and a tree root looks like a baby (Pan's Labyrinth might have been an inspiration there).

So the build-up of the story was quite all right, it's just that towards the end of the book it became a little jumbled together and some things really didn't make much sense anymore. In my opinion, of course. I've still got a lot of questions, but perhaps you saw the answers and I missed them.

For instance: Lily's diary. This had been hidden in the hearth of the cottage. Not even Vera, who lived there, had found it. It could be that she didn't know Lily had written this diary. Lily had told Vera where to look for it in a letter but Ivy kept the letter from Vera, so supposedly only Ivy knew of the diary. Then Ivy went to Dora and Ada to ask if they had the diary, so they also knew about it. But apparently also Fleur had read the diary. Where did she get it from? And why did she put it back in the secret hiding place in the hearth? A few days before Meg arrives at the cottage Chloe and Isabel are sent over to clean it and apparently Isabel found the diary. She had time to read it and write a paper using the information in that little space of time, whereas Meg took weeks to read it. I know, this was to keep up the suspense for us readers, but it wasn't logical. And Isabel even returned the diary to its hiding place. And why wanted Ivy to find the diary so badly? She couldn't have known what it was about. It's just a red herring to have the readers think she may have killed Isabel over this diary.

Which brings me to my second question. I don't know why Isabel was killed. I have been reading the book late at night a few times, so perhaps I missed something. But what was Shelley's motive? And at the final scene on the ridge it seems that Shelley is threatening Sally, but why? It would have made more sense if she had been threatening Chloe, who knew what was in Isabel's paper. I'm confused.

I'm also confused about the mixing up of the babies at the convent. What was the use of that? So let me try to get it straight. Lily had her baby and left. Mimi was still around and saw to it that the baby would be adopted by Gertrude. But she regretted that at the last moment, had Gertrude receive another child with a forged birth certificate and took Lily's baby for herself. Gertrude returned the baby when she got a child of her own. This baby is Ivy. Lily's baby became Meg's grandmother. This coincidence reminded me of the Da Vinci Code: "Sophie, that makes you Christ's last descendant on earth". Haha. But the biggest coincidence is Ivy's artistic talent. The reader thinks it's because Ivy is Lily and Nash's child, which gives her the artistic genes from both parents, but she isn't!

Things like this make me dislike the book. I don't know if I'll want to read another Carol Goodman novel. Both books I read were illogical and contrived and the people were unsympathetic. Sorry.

.....

I went back in the book to see if I could find a reason why Shelley would want to kill Isabel.
Quote:I try to calm down by telling myself that I have no proof that Shelley was behind Isabel’s death, but the pieces keep falling into place with a relentless logic. Fleur Sheldon was the last one to have Lily’s journal. Shelley must have found it with her mother’s things, along with the letter that described the discovery of Lily’s body. Shelley realized that Ivy St. Clare was responsible for Lily’s death—for her grandmother’s death. She would have blamed Ivy for her mother’s crumbling mental health. Why, though, didn’t she accuse Ivy herself? Maybe she was afraid that it would look like she had been trying to get Ivy fired from Arcadia so that she could take over her position, which is what she ended up doing. So she’d found someone else to make the connections and accuse Ivy: Isabel Cheney, a bright, ambitious history student who’d be sure to learn from the journal and letter that Ivy St. Clare was Lily’s daughter and figure out that Ivy had killed Lily. But Isabel had also been smart enough to figure out what Shelley was trying to do and to confront her. Only someone truly unhinged would respond by following Isabel into the woods and pushing her from the ridge, but I am beginning to suspect that Shelley is just that. Shelley must have been the woman in white I glimpsed near the cottage and whom Chloe had seen in the woods.
As I told Shelley yesterday.
Shelley now knew that Chloe had seen her. Would she wait for Chloe to figure out that it had been Shelley or would she arrange another accident on the ridge?

This really doesn't make any sense to me. And Carol Goodman calls it "relentless logic"? Huh?
If this is what's happened then Isabel hadn't found the diary herself, but it was given her by Shelley. But who put it back into the hearth and why?

And I've just thought of another odd thing: Why did Lily write a letter to Vera telling her of the diary? That would have made sense if she indeed had planned to run off with Nash, but that wasn't the case. She only went to the barn in the valley to pick up the statue and say goodbye to Nash. Who would write a letter when they could see the recipient face to face all day long? That letter was solely meant for us, the readers, to put us on the wrong foot.
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#5
I have never read Carol Goodman before so I can’t compare this to her other works, but here are my initial thoughts.
I would agree that the characters are unsympathetic. I think that may be due to poor character development.
I think I can see what she was trying to do with the daughter’s attitude and behavior-I read it as a reaction to her father’s unexpected death and her mother’s autocratic decision to move-but it was superficial.
In fact, I think secondary plots were substituted for character development. For example the supposed romance between the teacher and the sheriff, here was an opportunity to give Meg real depth but it is passed by and replaced with an unconvincing love affair.
The setting had great potential but I don’t think it was used to advantage. For me there was a distinct lack of the atmosphere and general eeriness I expect from a gothic novel. It is not enough to tell me the place is isolated and perhaps haunted. For me the setting is another character and it needs the same attention and development that characters do. I want to feel a sense of unease.

About Lily’s diary, from my reading I thought that Fleur had seen Lily hide the diary and had taken it immediately because she believed Lily was her mother and she wanted to read it in order to get closer to her. She then kept it and it was found by Shelley after Fleur’s death. Though I’m not entirely sure of this point because it isn’t really made plain and Fleur could have replaced it and told Shelley where it was at some point in the past. Shelley then returned it to its hiding place. Either way Shelley seems to have told Isabel where to find it when she was scheming for Isabel to expose Ivy.

As for the time line, it is tricky but it could be done, after all Meg reads the diary in between teaching and other obligations, as a student Isabel could have devoted all her time to the reading it and writing a paper.

Why did Ivy want the diary so badly? She may have simply been interested because she was obsessed with Vera and knew the diary would contain information that was intended for her. I agree that it is vague and weak motivation but I don’t think anything stronger is offered anywhere.

I think Shelly’s motive for killing Isabel was that Isabel figured out that Shelley was using her to get at Ivy and threatened to expose Shelley to Ivy. Shelley is insane, so while her motivation is weak it is logical to her disordered mind, kill Isabel and remove the threat.

By the time Shelley is threatening Sally on the ridge she has worked out that Meg knows everything. She is using Sally as leverage to control Meg. I assumed it was her intention to kill both girls and Meg at this point. But again, it isn’t clearly stated.
Overall, while this story had a number of gothic elements (setting, insanity, ambiguous hero) I don’t think any of them are developed enough to warrant the book being labeled as gothic.
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