rachelmanija: (Books: old)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2008-04-11 11:20

Trelawny, by Isabelle Holland

While it apparently can’t compete with gems from the 1700s and 1800s, featuring mad monks, demon dwarfs, and attempted rapes in hot air balloons, Trelawny is an excellent specimen of the modern Gothic which fulfilled every bit of the promise of its back cover copy, except that sadly both mammoths and tentacles were inventions of the back cover copy author and do not appear in the book. The final six pages alone contain at least nine hilariously head-spinning plot twists, and such intricate interwoven impersonations that I am still not one hundred percent sure who several characters actually are.

The huge, ghastly mansion Trelawny Fell has been held by the snooty Trelawny family since Nicholas Trelawny left his identical twin brother Giles behind in Cornwall and moved to Boston just in time for the American Revolution. But Giles was hanged as a highwayman and Nicholas hanged himself from a beam in one of the tentacle-like attics in Trelawny Fell. And ever since, every fifty years, a Trelawny has hung him or herself from that very beam!

Kit Trelawny was the product of a Trelawny father (missing; legally dead) and a country mother (definitely dead) from Wyoming. She was traumatized as a child when her dying mother attempted to foist her on the snooty Trelawnys, and they were both ridiculed and snubbed. Kit crushed on the handsome identical Trelawny twins, named Nicholas and Giles as is traditional for Trelawny twins-- and twins, like insanity and snootiness, run in the family. Mean Nicholas almost drowned her, and sullen Giles rescued her from a runaway horse. Kit and Mom left.

Now Kit is an adult, and has inherited Trelawny Fell, since Nicholas and Giles are both MIA in the Vietnam war and presumed dead. (Yeah, right.) She decides to turn it into an artist’s colony, and invites an assortment of counterculture artists. She gets lost and locked up inside the labyrinthine attics, hears spectral footsteps, and sees ghostly figures. There is poisoned stew, rabid rats, and exactly halfway through, the plot really gets cooking.



Nicholas is not dead, but is lurking in the attic! He has not claimed Trelawny because in Vietnam, he impersonated Giles, but Giles had murdered his own fiancée and is a wanted man, and Nicholas can’t prove that he is really Nicholas, not Giles, because people actually witnessed “Nicholas” (really Giles) die in Vietnam, whereas “Giles” (really Nicholas) is only MIA, so if the real Nicholas ever leaves the attic, everyone will think he is Giles and arrest him for murder and for making brainwashed propaganda broadcasts from Hanoi, which of course were really done by Giles. Or something like that.

Nicholas suffers from war wounds and malaria, and is prone to artistically fainting in coils, and also to painting in oils. He lurks. He produces spectral footsteps. He has opinions on Kit’s counterculture artists’ art. He gets poisoned with weedkiller-spiked stew. He was in a POW camp and tortured. He tames mice when he's not too busy fainting or lurking. Apart from his unfortunate habit of grabbing and forcibly kissing Kit to teach her lessons of an unclear nature, and of threatening to hang himself from the Beam of Doom, Nicholas is kind of awesome.

It is possibly a nod to that mother of all Gothics, Jane Eyre, and its mad wife in the attic that the romantic hero lurks in an attic for almost the entire book. It’s a big attic.

Then it turns out that Nicholas is really Giles. I forget why he impersonated Nicholas – maybe because he thought Kit preferred Nicholas. The stuff about impersonating each other in Vietnam is true, but really it was Nicholas who did the brainwashed broadcasts and murdered Giles’ fiancée. And Nicholas is really dead.

Then the handsome doctor who has been courting Kit and so clearly is the villain, hits on Kit, then pulls a gun on her. He is stopped by the surprise appearance of Nicholas, back from the dead! Only really it’s Giles impersonating Nicholas! Because Nicholas really is dead. I think.

The villainous doctor reveals that some ten-year-old girl in town is the daughter of Nicholas, and so the heir to Trelawny Fell. He first macks on the girl, then hangs her from the Beam of Doom. She survives, and a totally random other doctor ALSO macks on her. EW.

It is then revealed that Nicholas and Giles are fraternal twins, not identical, and that Nicholas, who was born first, was illegitimate because the priest rushing to marry their mom to their dad before the babies crowned was late, and married them after Nicholas was born but before Giles was. So only Giles is the heir, and Nicholas’ spawn is not in line to inherit.

But it is then revealed that Giles and Nicholas were switched at birth! I am not sure if that means that really Giles is Nicholas or what, but I THINK that this was all hushed up and the mom thought only Nicholas was legitimate but really Giles was. Anyway, the nun knew them by their birthmarks the doctor took blood samples before the switch, so Giles can prove that he’s really Giles. Or that he’s really Nicholas. Whatever. Anyway, he’s no longer a wanted man.

Oh, and one of the counterculture artists turns out to be an undercover cop, and another one was actually a psychic investigator. I was waiting for the caretaker to reveal that he was really Kit’s missing and legally-dead father, but I think Holland had forgotten about him by then, or he surely would have taken his bow.

In conclusion, girl gets house, which Giles (or Nicholas) persuades her to make into an orphanage for Indonesian (not Vietnamese, Indonesian) orphans. (I swear I’m not making this up.) She also gets Nicholas. Or Giles. I think not even Nicholas/Giles knows for sure.
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[identity profile] coffeeandink.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:40 (UTC)(link)
Oh, and one of the counterculture artists turns out to be an undercover cop, and another one was actually a psychic investigator.

I bet Giles (or Nicholas) fingered the cop because of his terrible art.

What happened to the molested ten year old? I am worried about her!

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:54 (UTC)(link)
The cop had good art... he obtained from a talented psychotic in an asylum!

I think we are supposed to think the molested ten-year-old will be OK because the random other doctor with the completely inappropriate comments will wait for her to grow up a bit before molesting her. "With those eyes she's going to be a smasher. I hope I'm still around and available when she's grown up."

[identity profile] smtfhw.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:40 (UTC)(link)
In conclusion, girl gets house, which Giles (or Nicholas) persuades her to make into an orphanage for Indonesian (not Vietnamese, Indonesian) orphans. (I swear I’m not making this up.) She also gets Nicholas. Or Giles. I think not even Nicholas/Giles knows for sure.

After that brilliant summation, I almost feel I ought to read it. Only almost, though...

[identity profile] heyoka.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:41 (UTC)(link)
...I... *headtilt* *blink*
ext_1310: (huh)

[identity profile] musesfool.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:43 (UTC)(link)
Okay, that sounds completely awesome. There should totally be a (really terrible) movie.

[identity profile] hooveraardvark.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:50 (UTC)(link)
. . . wow.

i think i must read this now. if only to make sense of the whole nicholas/giles plot, and figure out WHO IT REALLY IS at the end.

[identity profile] seajules.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 18:57 (UTC)(link)
I think it says something that it's the "fraternal twin" plot reveal that I find totally unnecessary. What it says, and whether it says it about me or the book, is an exercise I leave for the reader.

Has it been translated into Japanese, do you think? Somebody needs to send Yuki Kaori a copy.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 19:00 (UTC)(link)
It's not necessary to the plot, but it has some thematic resonance: Mrs. Trelawny managed to convince everyone that they were identical (to cover up the whole tangled plot) despite them not looking much alike, which says something about her force of personality and about perception becoming reality. Or something.

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[identity profile] miladyinsanity.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 19:03 (UTC)(link)
This is so good, I almost want to read it.

Just almost.

[identity profile] mistress-sin.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 19:13 (UTC)(link)
i think i heard my brain scream. either that or it's the quivering mass in the corner crying.

that may be me though . . . or my identical (fraternal) twin

^_^;

[identity profile] sienamystic.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 19:13 (UTC)(link)
I...I...

I think I must read this.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu 2008-04-11 19:49 (UTC)(link)
prone to artistically fainting in coils, and also to painting in oils

Lovely.

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[identity profile] tharain.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 19:59 (UTC)(link)
::reads admiringly::

That is some seriously fubar plottage, it is.

::edit:: AH! I thought, at first read, that Trelawny Fell was in Cornwall, and I couldn't figure out wtf the twins were doing in Vientam. Now I know. It's near Boston. Or...something.

::second edit:: I just checked out I. Holland. Woman wrote some squicky stuff.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 20:18 (UTC)(link)
Click on the tag to read more about her. Yep, squicky! And yet strangely compelling.
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (me okay whut)

[personal profile] genarti 2008-04-11 20:22 (UTC)(link)
I think that may be more identity confusion than the Hitachiin twins have.

Or maybe the two sets of twins should just be BFF. If only Nicholas-or-Giles were not dead. OH WELL.

Now I really want to read this book, even though the plot summary gives me a headache from trying to keep track of the character revelations.

[identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 21:30 (UTC)(link)
I'm almost sure I read this one when it came out. And wondered if it was riffing on Mary Davys' absolutely crazy novels from the early 1700s.

[identity profile] dangermousie.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 21:40 (UTC)(link)
I feel dizzy now. I think Kit should just call him Niles. Or Geekolas.

[identity profile] auriaephiala.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 01:34 (UTC)(link)
That is amazingly weird.

It gets to the point where you might figure out the right twin for the wrong reasons ... or the wrong reasons from four plot twists before.

Now, if you want a really bizarre Gothic, may I recommend The Demon Count's Daughter by Anne Stuart? I found it for 25 cents for someone on Bookstore Junkies, and read it first. Whew!

Funny thing was the history (Venice in the early 19th century, under Austrian rule, before Italian independence) seemed reasonably accurate and the author actually could spin a decent yarn -- if she could have edited her prose! Every "heaving bosom", "midnight tresses", and "straining bodice" cliche you could imagine was there. The hero has a disfiguring facial scar which only makes him more handsome, the heroine ends up swimming in the canal in only her bodice and knickers, which cling quite shamelessly to her womanly form (did I mention she was raven-haired, nearly 6 feet tall, and built?), and the climax of the book involves the heroine running around Venice in a very tattered gold satin gown that didn't start with much on top and has even less after she grapples with the villains who kidnap her after she's escaped from the amorous Austrian general. You get the idea.

Oddly enough, I gather it's collectible, and I must admit I've only ever seen the one copy.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 01:36 (UTC)(link)
Wow. I have read some Anne Stuart, and gosh is she weird! I have a tag for her under "authors." Is the hero trying to kill the heroine by any chance? He was in both the Stuarts I read.

(dis)figuring

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[identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 02:24 (UTC)(link)
Dude, that is bananas.

He tames mice when he's not too busy fainting or lurking.

Of course he does.

[identity profile] hkneale.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 02:58 (UTC)(link)
Ohmigosh! I could so get into that as long as the pace didn't drag.

I Kit, Take Thee...Gi, Ni, Whoever!

[identity profile] dremiel.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 03:45 (UTC)(link)
OMG I read this when I was about 15 and LOVED IT LIKE A RABID MOUSE IN AN ATTIC er, or something.

IIRC all of her plots are similarly serpentine and most involve kids in jeopardy.

[identity profile] dremiel.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 03:46 (UTC)(link)
Geekolas FTW!

[identity profile] epj.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 07:13 (UTC)(link)
Wikipedia is also mentioning a book called "Trelawney's Fell", published two years after "Trelawney". Sequel?!?!?

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-14 06:30 (UTC)(link)
Alternate title, same book. Alas.

[identity profile] april-art.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 10:07 (UTC)(link)
A sequel, wherein it is discovered that Geekolas (who was disguised as the talented psychotic artist) has not really died and that they really are identical twins... and then it's the return of the Branch of Doom! But some trained mice nibble the rope and save the day!!!
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[identity profile] re-weird.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 22:55 (UTC)(link)
This just confirms my theory that 18th/19th century literature and shoujo manga have much in common. Come on! There's crazy soap opera twists, cursed old families, twins, everyone is related to everyone else in some way, handsome dark silent men in love with younger purer heroines, and the over the top feelings.

Hilarious

(Anonymous) 2008-04-14 02:10 (UTC)(link)
I've never enjoyed not reading a book more! Your descriptions on the twists and turns were too hilarious. You've got a better attention span than me. I would have stopped reading probably in chapter one. The whole older doctors trying to mack on the child is awful. I know squickiness appears in some Gothic works of fiction (i.e. V.C. Andrews, "Flowers in the Attic," and Edgar Allan Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher"), but it's uncomfortable to read. And really, did that even need to be in the story? It seems like the story had enough twists without adding that ick factor.

-Michelle Lauren
www.michellelaurenbooks.com|Fiction that Defies Boundaries
ext_7025: (why not?)

[identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com 2008-04-17 13:44 (UTC)(link)
Wait, what?

Is this one good-bad or bad-good?

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-18 20:59 (UTC)(link)
Well, I sure enjoyed it.

[identity profile] andrewkaye.livejournal.com 2008-04-20 02:38 (UTC)(link)
"And ever since, every fifty years, a Trelawny has hung him or herself from that very beam!"

It's good to have traditions. In my family, we do this thing called "Christmas."

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