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Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman - Review

Sunday, September 18, 2022

So here's the thing about Carol Goodman: I love her. I read her first three books way back in the mid noughties and loved them. The Seduction of Water is one of my favourite books of all time, and I liked The Lake of Dead Languages and The Drowning Tree a lot too. I made both my parents read The Seduction of Water; I have a very clear memory of reading it while on holiday in Annecy in 2004. But where I had got the book from, I don't know! I know that my uni friend Katie and I shared a lot of books at that time. We had a cupboard in our shared house with books in, so it's possible I picked it up there. 

I read those three books and then I never read anything else by Carol Goodman. I can't explain why! But I had added some of them to my wishlist and recently when I needed to get free delivery, I added this to my basket. I picked it up soon after and although it's very dense, I very much enjoyed it. 

The thing about Carol Goodman's books is that they're always based in New England, usually in upstate New York or similar, and they always feature strong female characters, and there's always a lot of mythology and folklore involved. This one is no different. Our main character is Meg Rosenthal, who is in her mid to late thirties and who is driving to Arcadia Falls, an elite school in upstate New York, to be their new folklore teacher. With her is her sixteen year old daughter, Sally. Meg's husband Jude died less than a year ago. The two met while at art school, but Meg fell pregnant and dropped out, and Jude left art to work for Morgan Stanley and support the family. He had a heart attack and died the previous October, leaving debts that Meg didn't know they had. She has had to sell the huge McMansion they lived in and take any job she could. Hence Arcadia Falls.

She already knows of the school, because she is doing her PhD thesis on the fairy tales written by two of the school's founders, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt. Vera was the benefactor of the school; the old buildings belonged to her family. Lily was her partner, and also the teller of some of the fairy tales, including one about a changeling girl which Meg used to read to Sally. Lily was also the muse of an artist called Virgil Nash; several of his paintings and his sculptures remain in the school. 

Meg and Sally arrive at the school in dense fog, and find their on campus cottage dusty and not cleaned. The severe dean, Ivy St Clare, admonishes two girls she sent to clean it. They are Chloe and Isabel and they have quite a rivalry going on. Isabel has been the May Day goddess in one of the pagan rituals the school enacts, and Chloe is about to take over from her. When the ritual happens, Isabel goes missing from the ridge above the school, which happens to be where Lily died in the late 1940s. 

Ivy St Clare gives Meg Vera's journals and books, to help with her thesis. Meg starts to uncover exactly what happened in the bohemian colony of artists in the twenties, thirties, and forties. 

I found the story intriguing and wanted to get to the end. I liked Meg a lot and I felt for her with the gap that had grown between her and Sally in the months since Jude's death. I guessed some of the twists but not others, which kept me interested. I'm giving this four out of five and I will definitely need to read the rest of Carol's books!

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