I read three Anya Seton novels this summer: Green Darkness, Smouldering Fires, Dragonwyck.
I believe I enjoyed them in that order, though I don’t like to rate things; it doesn’t do them justice.
What struck me was how dramatic, theatrical really, she is. First of all, look at the titles. They promise passion, don’t they? You know when you’re watching a sitcom and there’s a character addicted to a particular (fictional) writer’s books? The books tend to have uber-gothicky names and the author’s name itself conjures up thoughts of a glamorous writer you might find in glosssy magazine profiles. To me, that’s kind of what Anya Seton’s like.
I’ve always seen those shows and known that if I were to read that sitcom character’s favorite writer, I would not particularly care for her work. It’s the paradox of wanting to like something, but not liking it anyway. In the paraphrased words of my sister as she looks admiringly at my glass of iced coffee, “I want to like it. Really. I’ve tried. I just don’t!”
With Seton, you do. At least, I did. So she’s a great find. An interesting woman, too, I found out from an article in her hometown’s historical society’s journal. She was born wealthy, married a guy named Hamilton, divorced him, married another guy named Hamilton (how does thathappen?), started writing at some point in adulthood, researched like mad, won acclaim, had a movie of her book made starring Vincent Price, had children and, it seems, only wrote 12 books.
So, now, I’ve read one quarter of her books in one summer. I should say that Green Darkness is about 589 pages long. If you’re looking for a long mysterious rambling story of love and, yes, intrigue, you may want to consider it. A woman’s buried memories of her previous life threaten to kill her, and her husband has similar problems, during a house party in the English countryside that assembles a cast of characters who don’t realize it, but have met before during the 1500s.
Smouldering Fires takes place in Connecticut and deals with the displacement of Arcadians from Nova Scotia in the 1800s as a young girl struggles with her own distant past.
Dragonwyck, though enjoyable, was perhaps the least sophisticated in its writing. Still, it delivered an interesting story about a manor/tenant system that existed in the 1800s in New York State. Who knew? I’ll just say that the anti-hero in this made for a good casting choice in Vincent Price in the 40s film.