Monday, May 16, 2011

The White Devil

When I saw The White Devil, by Justin Evans, on a list of books that Harper was willing to send me for review, I couldn't resist--even though it's a ghost story and I usually shy away from anything scary. But it's about Byron...

And it turned out to be one of those mysteries where what happens is driven by a character finding out more about Byron's life.  Mmm, total catnip for an English major.  If I could have, I'd have read the whole thing in one pleasant afternoon.  But deadlines and kids' awards ceremonies intervened, and I ended up having to put it down twice, which was two more times than I would have otherwise.

As Jenny observes, this novel has a lot of plot elements, and I think that's what kept me reading. If I got a little tired of one story line, maybe the teenage boy's puerile meanderings about his relationship with his father, there would soon be another one along to keep me going down the track toward finding out more about Byron's relationship with the ghost.

He's a malevolent ghost, and it's not until a scene at the very end that you find out a little bit about why Byron could have loved him.  In the meantime, though, you get some impressions of life in a British boarding school, the realism of which may be due to the author's own year at Harrow.  I like the comparison of the attitude of students to their British teachers and their American ones--at Harrow,
"the banter was larded with respectful Sirs, seasoned with eager, show-offy anecdotes from the newly risen Sixth Formers. All this was friendly, even affectionate..."
while at the American school,
"the baby boomer faculty who had chosen such a low-paying career as teaching were treated with suppressed contempt by the students, children of Wall Streeters, who knew that grades didn't matter, didn't help you make millions; that these teachers, then, must be little better than servants."

When Andrew, the American, comes to Harrow, he is told that he looks like Lord Byron and should therefore act his part in the play that a poet and housemaster is writing, about which of Byron's many sexual partners could be shown to be the love of his life.  The ghost wants that distinction, and he wants Andrew.

So Andrew has to find out what part this ghost might have played in Byron's life, and who he might have wanted to kill, in order to keep his friends alive.

I particularly enjoy the poet's reply to one of Andrew's questions:
"Ah, children, who want to know what poems mean.  They don't mean. They express. They are songs. When you sympathize, you make them mean something...."

I have to admit that I read up until the last few chapters and then put the book aside to finish in the morning, as is my habit if I read anything that might be scary. But I could have gone ahead and read it; it wraps things up nicely without adding anything too horrific.

This was a nice little piece of fiction-candy, suitable for popping all in your mouth at once; one of those attractive, light-colored candies with a dark, chewy center.

7 comments:

Amanda said...

It was a very fun book. I quite enjoyed it. :)

Anonymous said...

Sound marvelous - but you know that I love ghost stories!

-lemming

Jeanne said...

Amanda, I thought you'd like it since it has Byron!

Lemming, you'd probably love this one.

readersguide said...

Oooh. Looks good.

FreshHell said...

I knew the author sounded familiar! I read his other book this year? Last year? Fairly recently. It was good but this might be better? I'll keep it in mind for the future.

Jenny said...

Ha, I didn't even remember that line about poems meaning things. I like that too! It sounds exactly like what my mother always says when people ask her what various pieces of modern art mean.

Jeanne said...

Readersguide, it would be a quick read for you.

FreshHell, his other book is a ghost story, too, A Good and Happy Child.

Jenny, your mother and I are sometimes frighteningly alike.