Thursday, July 10, 2008

Other People's Rules by Julia Hamilton

This is a rich, dark novel, brilliantly written by Julia Hamilton, in a style that is reminiscent of Nancy Mitford and L. P. Hartley. Like Mitford, Julia Hamilton presents us with the insular and enclosed lives of the British upper class; all the while dissecting it with flashes of ironic humour -- coming across Margaret Thatcher describes as "Mad Maggie" is something I shall always personally treasure! And like L.P. Hartley, Julia Hamilton presents us with a sympathetic protagonist, Lucy Diamond, whom we first meet as a unsure sixteen year old, the outsider to the magical world of Gatehouse, who seems to absorb the unpleasantness and the secrets that swirl around without actually registering them until too late.

This is not a mystery novel, it is more of a psychological novel. Almost from the very beginning we are told that the murder of Katie Gresham probably did take place on Gatehouse land, the home of Ivar Gatehouse, the Earl Gatehouse. Ivar Gatehouse is one of the rising stars of Margaret Thatcher's government. He is rich, charming and handsome. Unfortunately for Ivar, his family seems to be completely screwed up. Luca Diamond is introduced to the rich, glamorous world of the Gatehouses through Ivar's youngest daughter, Sarah. And in spite of Lucy's mother's reservations, Lucy is completely seduced by that world. And it isn't too long before Lucy is seduced by Ivar as well. And this is where young Katie Gresham enters the novel. Unlike Lucy, Katie is part of Ivar's upper class world; and unlike Sarah and Lucy, Katie is no insecure teenager. Ivar seems to be completely taken with Katie much to Lucy's and Sarah's chagrin. And then after a party one night, Katie disappears. Her body is never found; and when a sociopath who has been kidnapping and torturing young girls to death is caught, Katie's disappearance is tied to him as well. However years later, on his deathbed, he claims innocence over Katie's death. The police reopen the case and this time around the focus is on Ivar and all the unsavory rumours concerning his penchant for teenage girls and his infamous murderous rages. Lucy Diamond, now a successful divorce lawyer is again drawn to the happenings at Gatehouse. But it takes an almost tragedy before Lucy is able to look objectively at what happened all those years ago and break the wall of silence that the Gatehouses and their kind have constructed to keep the outsiders at bay.

This novel is superb on so many levels: the brilliant manner in which the authour has layered all the characters and all the events; the clean lines along which the plot is written -- no extraneous characters or events here; and most of all the portrayal of the deeply troubled and confused protagonist, Lucy Diamond. Another point I appreciated was that Ivar Gatehouse, even by the end of the novel, remains a question mark -- perhaps monsters should remain that way so that the horrors of what they have perpetrated remain in place. One other thing that struck me all over again while reading this novel was how similar the world of the upper class was to that of the village working class -- both are close-knit, insular, deeply suspicious of outsiders, and both are liberally peopled with eccentric characters.

This is not a novel with a deeply intricate plot. Rather, the story is a sadly simple one of what happens when there is a sociopath in your life. It is a rich and dark tale, liberally peopled with memorable characters. Definitely a novel that is worth reading and rereading.

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