Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smouldering Fires by Anya Seton



Set in the 1970s, this novel revolves around Amy Delatour, a nearly friendless high school misfit, the type of girl who doesn’t know how to make the most of her looks and wears the wrong clothes, glasses, and her pretty reddish-brown hair scraped back, up and out of the way in a granny knot. She is fascinated by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, particularly his poem “Evangeline” which harkens back to her own French Acadian heritage. She is also troubled by an unexplainable fear of fire and haunted by strange dreams. Her hardworking, pain-wracked widowed mother, Sarah, is brusque, critical, and resentful, and the only real affection in Amy’s life comes from her French-Canadian grandfather, “Grandpere” Pierre Delatour ,who has filled her receptive mind with tales of their ancestors' exile from Nova Scotia in 1755 and the horrors and cruelty they endured.

The new English teacher, Martin Stone, takes an interest in Amy when they discuss her independent study project—she wants to write a paper about the real Evangeline, whom she believes was her ancestor, Ange-Marie. Intrigued by the hidden depths and brightness Amy hides under her glasses, granny knot, unattractive clothes, and quiet demeanor, her reference to “dreaming true,” and her inexplicable phobia of fire, Mr. Stone, who has an interest in psychology and the paranormal, decides to try hypnosis to unlock Amy’s subconscious and uncover the root of her problems and the source of her fear. But when Amy begins to speak in the voice of Ange-Marie, her 18th century French Acadian ancestress, her desperate longing for her lost love Paul, and fire, Martin enlists the aid of his old girlfriend and college classmate, Claire Colbert, and the two attempt to unravel the mystery of Amy/Ange-Marie and discover if this is evidence of a deeply disturbed personality, a schizophrenic perhaps, or genuine proof of reincarnation, the echoes of a past life intruding upon the present.

This is the final book by one of my favorite authors so it saddens me to say that this is a lackluster finale to her writing career. I wonder if perhaps she was trying to recapture the glory of Green Darkness, one of my all-time favorite books which also deals with a case of reincarnation, though at much greater length and depth than in Smouldering Fires, which appears skimpy and rushed in comparison. In Green Darkness the modern-day characters’ Tudor England past life personalities and surroundings were fully developed so readers could become immersed in their lives and emotions, and the turmoil of the times they lived in, but that is definitely not the case with Ange-Marie and her beloved Paul, they are wispy, pallid dream figures in comparison. I do not know the details of Mrs. Seton’s life, perhaps she had grown disenchanted with writing by this point or there were other problems in her life during the writing of this book that kept her from rising to the challenge that every book is and giving it her best. Maybe she was tired and just wanted to be done with it? I only know that Smouldering Fires, much to my regret, in this readers’ opinion, does not smoulder at all, the fire has gone completely out.



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