Friday, 1 August 2014

The Mysterious Affair At Castaway House - Stephanie Lam

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 I found Stephanie Lam's The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House to be an interesting story to say the least. My first impression was to think of a whodunnit, at this Castaway house. I realised soon, this is more to do with an old buried family secret. Sufficiently intrigued, I dug in, to find out for myself the merit of the book and the author.


Set in the 1965, eighteen-year-old Rosie Churchill runs away from home and finds work at a cafe in a tourist town, to sustain herself. She lives in this big run down mansion called Castaway house where shares a flat with three girls and is on good terms with her landlords, an enigmatic couple, Johnny and Star. Someone from home catches up with her and leaves expensive gifts and notes at her doorstep, urging her to return.

During the course of her stay at Castaway House, she meets a homeless man, who turns up at the door, inviting her sympathy and suffering from lack of memory. The only thing he keeps saying is, he had to come back to Castaway house to find some truth about himself.
Meanwhile, Rosie also finds a sketch of a man with the initials R.C. Later and later engraving over a window sill that says "Robert Carver is innocent". Totally intrigued, she is keen to find how it all fits.

Flashback to 1924. Recovering from an illenss, Robert Carver is on his way to Castaway house to spend the with his cousin Alexander and his new wife, Carla Bray. He notices the friction between the couple and is privy to some downstairs gossip about the house being tainted in some way. Carver soon finds himself deeply embroiled in the events concerning the house, changing his life forever.

What works:
  • Despite being a debut author, Lam presents a very intriguing and a well written story. She handles the myriad threads of storylines very well.
  • The story flashes back and forth from 20s and 60s. The period element of the 20s rings true, keeping in mind the post war era and the feel of the time. Similarly, the 60s era of the flower power is also done quite well and blends with the characters and the storyline.
  • She also simultaneous connections very well. The similarity in the initials of Rosie Churchill and Robert Carver and also the way they are implicated in situations not of their doing  is yet another positive.
  • With this kind of a plot, intrigue is very important and also how it unravels. Lam builds it up and  reveals with good timing. I was turning pages late into the night to figure who was Dockie and how was he connected to Castaway house. 
  • What I also liked is the why the parallels run through and still strike resonance in its characters Rosie and Robert and Star and Clara.
What doesn't:
  • Without giving away the plot, my only issue was the relationship between the two characters in the 1965 narrative. It seemed stilted and a bit awkward. I was not sure how it helped the story and found it a tad, jarring. 

A great summer read. Ideal for that beachside, lazy afternoon.

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