Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"The Holiday Friend" by Pamela Hansford Johnson

Published:  1972
Setting:  Modern Day

Melissa dreamed that she was climbing a great crimson mast, up into the sky. She could see above her an octagonal lantern, like that of a lighthouse; her feet were bare on the glittering rigging. She as climbing; and hyet she ast in the square below, watching herself. It was perilous; she was afraid al the time that she might fall, but knew she must go on. To reach the lantern, to trip on to it to crawl inside it, where joy awaited her; she must do this. Her feet were bleeding; she saw her other self, quiet on the benches, watch the slow black drops of splash on to the cobbles. Her body ached; all her bones were strained to the ascent.

At last she came to the octagon, but it had diminished, to othing greater than a street lamp. He was small inside, but she could not go to him. She tried t peer through the smudged glass, to call to him, but could make no sound. Her hands, slipping in rain or blood, gave way; she fell, but slowly, cushioned by the air, srapped in its comfort. Soon, like a parachutist, she was feel the comfort cease and would rush down on to the stones. She tried, as she fell, to catch at the rigging; it eluded her. The crowd was rushing up at her, faster and faster, white faces like so many expanding moons.

She awoke, sweating and trembling, sat up in bed to shake off the dream. The curtains were only half-drawn, and the moonlight shafted in. Where was the mast, where were the crowds upon the cobble-stones, greedy for her to fall? She was not yet fully awake...

Inside Cover Synopsis:

This story of a fateful holiday begins quietly at a Belgian seaside village, which Pamela Hansford Johnson beautifully evokes. Gavin and Hannah Eastwood are vacationing there, with their 12-year-old son. But Eastwood has been followed to Belgium by one of his students who ahs fallen in love with him – a girl living in a romantic fantasy. Her presense sets up a tension which increases as Miss Hansford Johnson carries her story forward with wit and acute perception. While the Eastwoods try to cope with an obsession, their small son secretly pursues his own sinister holiday friendship. The vacation which began so peacefully explodes in a shocking climax.

Although this story was labeled in the genre of Gothic Romance at the local library, I think it's more of a thriller/mystery selection.

Nonetheless, it has some great gothic romance elements that make for eager, suspenseful reading.

The book rotates from the three different viewpoints, so you really have three separate stories wrapped into one. First there is the young, obsessive Melissa Hirst. Poor, without any family to speak of and in love with an Art History professor who does not know she exists. Melissa even follows him on holiday, obsessively pursues a forced friendship with the professor and his wife, forges relations with their young son whilst making a nuisense of herself.

The viewpoint then changes to the Eastwoods and their personal reaction to the increasingly-pervasive Melissa and her unhealthy, fantasy-based notions that she if she pursues and loves hard enough, Gavin Eastwood will eventaully fall in love with her. And, although her redirects the girl and misleads her several times, in secret, the Eastwoods do not care for the poor girl at all.

Then there is Gavin, the 12-year-old son for which the Eastwoods love full-heartedly, yet cannot ever seen to be satisfied with the child. They feel he lacks in growth and development, they worry over the finances of his schooling as well as his failure to thrive in a schooling environment. They also desperately seek time away from the child for their own selfish passions, thus allowing leeway for the child to get involved in his own sinister dealings with an older foreign boy.

Back and forth you go, the push and pull effects of Mellissa and the Eastwoods. The galvanizing, zany characters of two other families who are also vacationing at the inn. The bizzarre holiday atmosphere and the celebratory comings and goings of circus acts and fairs, both brilliant yet with dark undertones that keep the reader hooked from chapter to chapter, almost in 'need' to know what happens next.

I loved this book. It's eloquently written and beatifully detailed. I almost felt as if I were watching from behind a crack in the door as Melissa made a mockery of her childish crush time and again whilst putting undue stress on the Eastwoods right up until the final, deadly grand finale.

Best Gothic Elements: romantic obsession, murder, mysterious friendships forged during foreign travel, murder.

4 Stars

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