So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Folly. Laurie R. King

Laurie King's Folly is a very sympathetic portrayal of the effects of psychosis and madness on the individual. In this case it is Rae Newborn who is literally reborn from her last bout of suicidal mental illness through the solitude of an uninhabited island and the project of rebuilding a burned-out house. We join her as she leaves therapy to live on an isolated island off the coast of Washington state. Her only human contact is a weekly visit by a tatooed man called Ed who drops off her supplies and picks up her laundry and shopping list. She starts off by dumping her medications into the Sound (pharmaceutical pollution!) to live drug free with her imaginary Watchers and her suicidal depression.

The mystery aspect of the novel is based on the old adage: "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean the world isn't out to get you." She is a famous artist with her own and inherited wealth. Her son-in-law is involved in shady dealings and always seeking money from Rae. Her geat uncle Desmond originally built the house and disappeared when a mysterious fire destroyed it just before completion. Is someone out to get her or is she just psychotic? As the work on the house proceeds and her health improves this question keeps up the suspense.

The structure of the novel is broad sections named after the progress of the house reconstruction (Clearing the Ground, Laying the Foundations Building Walls, Raising the Roof Beam, and House Warming). Each of these is introduced by some brief statement by an anonymous Victim who seeks vengeance against The Thief. Who these two are the ultimate mystery of the novel. Each section is divided into chapters that are told from the point of view of Rae Newborn. To break up this a bit, the author introduces chapters throughout the text that are selections from Rae's journal, Desmond's journal, Rae's letters to her granddaughter Petra, and letters from Petra.

Laurie King is a master of character development and locale. Her depiction of Rae and the people with whom she interacts brings these people to rich and complex life. Even when the readers know they are minor characters, we are still treated to people who bring a complexity to their roles. This is also true of the setting in the San Juan islands. The pace and ecology of this community is lovingly portrayed. Add to these the technical details of house carpentry and woodworking, and you have a very rich and satisfying novel.

Folly is an excellent mystery. Without the known anchors of Ms. King's mystery series (Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli), this book may lack some of the success of books in those series. I found it difficult at the start because Rae has been suicidally depressed and I have a natural reluctance to make friends with people like that. Yet it is by confronting our discomfort that this book is ultimately successful in providing a deep insight into the stigma of mental illness.


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