The Haunting of L.

Howard Norman

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002
ISBN 10: 0374168253 / ISBN 13: 9780374168254
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Synopsis: The final book in Howard Norman's Canadian Trilogy: a novel about spirit-photographs, adultery, and greed

It is 1927. Young Peter Duvett has accepted a job as an assistant to the elusive portraitist, Vienna Linn, in the remote town of Churchill, Manitoba. Peter's life is about to change in ways he scarcely could have imagined. Across Canada, Linn has been arranging and photographing gruesome accidents for the private collection, in London, of a Mr. Radin Heur-theirs is a macabre duet of art and violence.

After a strenuous journey, Peter arrives in Churchill on the very night of his employer's wedding only to fall under the spell of Vienna's brilliant and beautiful wife, Kala Murie. Several months later, the uneasy menage a trois moves to Peter's native Halifax. Peter is drawn more and more deeply to Kala as he reluctantly comes to share her obsession with "spirit pictures," photographs in which the faces of the long-dead or forgotten mysteriously appear --and as he sees more and more terrifying scenes come to life in the darkroom.

Howard Norman's The Haunting of L. is a chilling fable of moral blindness and artistic ambition, from a writer of "complexly tragic vision" (Richard Bernstein, The New York Times).

Review: The Haunting of L., Howard Norman's exploration of depravity and the influence of remorse, overcomes an underdeveloped plot with a consistently eerie sense of suspense. Following the tragic death of his mother, Peter Duvett leaves his Halifax home and travels to Churchill, Manitoba, where he has accepted a job as an assistant to a photographer he has never met. The photographer, Vienna Linn, works for a local Jesuit, for whom he takes pictures of recently baptized townspeople. Duvett soon meets Linn's "exquisite" new bride, Kala Murie, a devoted student of spirit photography, a phenomenon in which the images of the deceased appear in photographs alongside family and friends. Things turn especially bizarre when Murie fills Duvett in on the truth about her husband before seducing him on her wedding night: Linn is working for a deranged English spiritualist, Radin Heur, who pays him to arrange and photograph train wrecks. As his affair with Murie intensifies, Duvett chooses to remain with the pair, a witness to Linn's murderous attempts to appease Heur and the consuming guilt that follows.

Duvett states that a good book, in his opinion, makes him "feel some nervousness, excitement, agitation, even fear about what happened next." By this standard, The Haunting of L. is indeed a worthwhile novel; a classically styled mystery and the sort of strange-but-true tale Duvett favors. Norman (author of The Bird Artist) captures stark snapshots of setting and character, eliciting anticipation by focusing on the essentials and leaving detail in the shadows. The Haunting of L. ends up as an effective ghost story, creating alluring tension in its obscurity, making for an intriguing, if underexposed, portrait. --Ross Doll

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Title: The Haunting of L.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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