by Richard Adams
Though I cannot tell why, I know without doubt that I shall never again undergo any supernatural experience. That music has ended, and now there will be silence.
Alan Desland, a porcelain and fine china dealer approaching middle age, has accepted his lot and found satisfaction being alone and working towards bettering his moderately successful business. On a trip to Copenhagen he has a chance meeting with an incredibly attractive young woman, and his tune changes to one of the love-lost. A brief courtship leads to a marriage proposal and a trip to America for the ceremony, then the two return to his home in England.
What follows, and makes up the majority of the book, is a whirlwind romance. Karin, the exceedingly beautiful and talented bride awes everyone around her, but her enigmatic past remains locked away and Alan decides, with the guidance of his great friend and progressive-leaning minister, Tony, to leave it be and support her in away way he can. Tony and Karin form a friendly, combative relationship when it comes to religious belief. Her inquiries into the teachings of Jesus and the nature of forgiveness combined with her refusal to be married in a church begin shedding some light on her past, and that steadily darkening mystery is increasingly interesting. But the heart and soul of the story is the couple’s devotion to each other.
They live in the moment, and it’s a wonderful, inspiring sight. Inevitable challenges arise, starting with the perceived impropriety of their lightning relationship, but Karin’s skill and charm and Alan’s hopeful adoration dispels them even in polite, proper, elite British society. Alan’s business flourishes, due in no small part to Karin’s involvement, and their happiness combined with her mysterious background gives a disquieting feeling, steadily progressing as the story deepens and otherworldly elements are introduced.
The novel is rich, employing an extensive vocabulary, British sensibilities and a flowery tongue somewhat in the tradition of the Victorian masters. This is not a fast-paced roller coaster; it’s a gondola ride of passion, impossible love and mystery. Even plug-chewing, beer-swilling rednecks, shotguns set aside and safely mounted in the truck’s gun rack, can lose themselves in this world if they give it an honest try and dive in with full heart and mind. Make no mistake, it requires investment from the reader. It doesn’t pay you to read, instead offering a generous exchange for the effort you put in. One of the reasons it is so damned effective is that it plays off your investment.
The Girl on a Swing deserves more than a single pass, but if you give the novel your full attention, and the universe allows, it will sweep you away the first time out.
The performers–even the composer–can achieve only so much. The rest is not even up to ourselves, but a gift. Sometimes we are mysteriously empowered to enter the presence of the god: sometimes we cannot, but remain fluttering up and down and impenetrable sheet of glass while the sun shines on outside.
4+ (5-?) stars
(Note: Kindle readers beware, you’re going to have to put up with scores of textual errors. I’ve written Amazon, and if enough people do the same maybe they’ll fix it—under no circumstances should readers expect this level of quality in a full-priced, prestigious book.)