A fledgling interest in young adult literature has led me to the goal of reading all four shortlisted Costa 2007 novels. However, a barometer is needed to measure against – no better place to start then than Linda Newbery’s 2006 Costa winning novel, Set In Stone.
Samuel Godwin finds himself installed as an art tutor at Fourwinds, a mansion designed, built and decorated to the immaculate standards of its owner Ernest Farrow, who lives there with his two daughters and his housekeeper. This being the C19th and a gothic tale to boot, there lie, beneath the immaculate surface of life at Fourwinds, some very very shady secrets.
The tale is a good one and the themes not at all juvenile. Newbery does not condescend to her YA audience. Her writing is fluid and complex. She uses a wide range of vocabulary and imagery and I, as Lizzy, award additional brownie points for Samuel Godwin’s marked appreciation for the women in Rossetti’s paintings with their bold glances, their sensually curved lips, and their rippling manes of hair.
Despite all this I was never fully absorbed. Perhaps because I’m not YA, the plot developments feel sometimes too pat. (The housekeeper solves the underlying mystery by intuition, the bad guy drowns too conveniently.) Events and dialogue are sometimes too melodramatic – though I realise I’m being perverse with such criticism. The novel is an obvious homage to the sensationalist novels of the 1860’s and Wilkie Collins’s The Woman In White in particular – from Godwin’s arrival at Fourwinds and his meeting a distraught Marianne in the woods to the wolf-in-Count-Fosco’s-clothing character of Ernest Farrow.
The problem is that all this sensationalism has left me craving the real thing. Watch out for The Moonstone coming to a blog near you, very, very soon!