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.
chomiji: A cartoon image of chomiji, who is holding a coffee mug and a book and wearing kitty-cat ears (shigure-book)

[personal profile] chomiji 2008-04-11 23:32 (UTC)(link)


That's probably my absolute favorite DWJ! (Although there are several close competitors for the title ... .) One of the great things about it is all the meta - it's one of those books about books.


[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2008-04-12 01:38 (UTC)(link)
It's mine too... well... along with The Homeward Bounders, which was also amazingly inventive and broke my heart. And Witch Week, which has excellent and unsentimental characterization, and two scenes which are guaranteed to leave me weeping with laughter. (Worms in custard and "Simon says.")
chomiji: A cartoon image of chomiji, who is holding a coffee mug and a book and wearing kitty-cat ears (Default)

[personal profile] chomiji 2008-04-12 04:10 (UTC)(link)


I can't argue with either of those - they're also among my favorites. Yes, Nan's gift of Foul Mouth ... and also her description of the Inquisitor's set-up.



I also have a fondness for Archer's Goon and Deep Secret, however.



Did you ever read DWJ's essay on Fire and Hemlock? "The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey"?