The Drowning Tree

August Penrose created the stained glass ‘Lady Window’ to adorn the chapel of the university he founded for the daughters of the women who worked in his factory, the Rose Glass Works. Depicting his wife, Eugenie, as the Lady of Shallot, it’s a mesmerizing portrait that has come to embody the spirit of the school itself. But now, eighty years after it was created, the ‘Lady Window’ is due for restoration. The task falls to former alumna Juno McKay. She’s restoring it with the help of her friend, Christine Webb, an art historian who is researching the window for her thesis. Christine seems to have discovered some new evidence that suggests that Clare, not her sister Eugenie, was the subject for the ‘Lady Window’. But before Christine can discuss her findings with Juno, she’s found dead in a boating accident that eerily echoes that fate of the Lady of Shallot. But did she drown or was it something more sinister? As Juno starts to make her own investigations into just how Christine died, she learns more about Augustus Penrose and his family. The ‘Lady Window’ was not the only thing the Penroses’ bequeathed to the world. Madness and deception also form part of their legacy.

I am in such a state of emotional shock from this book that I hardly know where to begin. Even the genre doesn’t do it full justice–gothic suspense thriller–no, no no! That is all wrong! It is so much more than that!

Carol Goodman’s plot takes place within the world of academia and art history, as Juno dives into her friend’s research of a local artist’s famous work. The story weaves in and out of myths and poetry, paintings and stained glass, real and still life, past and present. All combine to become a deeply beautiful, moving book that still is able to remain a mystery until the very end.

The setting is rooted not only at the academy, but also within the nearby mental hospital. A few of the characters have mental illnesses, and Goodman has shown this from all angles. Be prepared to see it from the days when it was still called an asylum. Be prepared for stigma and prejudices from institution workers around lobotomies and other such procedures. But there is also plenty of points of view from those who have the disorders, and it’s clear she did her research there. Trigger warning for suicide and drug overdose.

I really loved this book. I read it on a dark, rainy sick day and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book for that mood. It’s not a happy book, and I definitely have a hangover from it. I’m looking at what is supposed to be next and laughing, because there is no way I can move on to that right now. This was just too good. Add it to your buy list–I sure am!

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