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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2009
I found this book to be complex and fascinating. It combines elements of fairy tale with a study of the triggers for personal transformation, and also manages to develop into a plausible thriller.

We are introduced at the start of the book to Iris Greenfeder - wannabe author, not-quite professor (ABD = all but dissertation), and in a long standing relationship that doesn't require much commitment on either side. Iris misses her mother, who was killed in a hotel fire when she was young, and is sad about the recent death of her father. She isn't all that happy with her life - but she doesn't feel the need for change. Yet.

However, Iris writes a story based on one of her mother's fairy tales and submits it to a magazine for publication. Like a stone dropped into a pool, this small action creates ripples. Powerful people begin to gather around Iris. At first she (and we) think this is just happenstance. The magazine editor publishes Iris's story and introduces Iris to her uncle (Harry) who, by coincidence (we think), turns out to be a hotel magnate and who buys up the, now run down, hotel where Iris grew up. Then, out of the blue, a well known literary agent contacts Iris and encourages her to work on a memoir about her mother. Together these forces work on Iris's unconscious feelings of dissatisfaction with her life and she decides to spend the summer at the hotel looking for clues about her mother's past.

So Iris reluctantly takes on the job of hotel manager and turns out to be good at it - the first step in her personal transformation. She also finds a job at the hotel for ex-convict Aidan and begins a romantic relationship with him - another change for Iris. Aidan goes through his own transformation from ex-convict to professional hotel staff member and all round hero. Gradually, as Iris finds out more about her mother's past, other people who have an interest get closer and closer. The pace of the story gradually picks up, building to an exciting thriller ending.

At intervals throughout out the book, we are given snippets from Iris's mother's books, unfolding the story of the Selkies. This story hints at what happened to Iris's mother in the past and gives us clues to the present day events taking place. Normally I find this type of side-tracking to be irritating, breaking the flow of the narrative, but in this book the little snippets of fairy tale are skilfully woven in to give us important insights to the action.

I think it's a pity that the publishers have flagged this book as a thriller. Although it has an exciting finish, the first half of the book is too slow and too reflective to keep the attention of a reader who expects action and fast pace.

Personally, I found the first half of the book to be insightful and thought-provoking, I loved the interweaving of different themes, and as the pace stepped up I was happily carried along to what for me was a very satisfactory ending.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 November 2008
'My favourite story when I was small, the one I begged for night after night was The Selkie'.

The reviews for Goodman's first novel - The Lake of Dead Languages - led me to this one and I was immediately drawn into Iris' world. Iris is an aspiring writer who is ABD (all but dissertation) and who is teaching creative writing whilst trying to become a writer herself. She and her boyfriend are both struggling artists, stuck in their lives. Iris writes a piece called The Selkies Daughter, based on the fairy tales her mother told her, and it is the catalyst of change - leading her to investigate the mysteries in her family's past.

The first half of the novel is intriguing and Goodman builds tension and atmosphere - yet somehow the second half with its nods to the gothic form is disappointing and predictable - perhaps because it is plot rather than character driven. The first half had promised a deeper exploration of Iris and her world. Goodman writes well and I will try others but I found this formulaic.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2013
Unlike the other works of this author that I'd read, I found this really hard going. It took a very long while to stop plodding plotwise and start to grab my interest. If you are someone who has no patience for very slow plots then avoid this book.
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on 18 March 2016
There's something oddly disengaging about the heroine Iris, which is a shame as she really needs to hold this book together and for me she just doesn't. That said, the story is beautifully written but almost agonisingly slow and then suddenly morphs into a detective thriller at the end which sat uneasily with the literary genre in this case.

Not Goodman's best by a fairly long chalk - I much preferred The Lake of Dead Languages and suggest you start there if you've not read this author before.
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on 20 February 2009
I looked forward to opening this based on the quotations and blurb. I was very much looking forward to a thriller (as stated on the cover). Sadly, it disappointed on this front from early on but I was convinced if I kept turning the pages it would become one. It did have an air of mystery to it but for me a thriller is something that plunges the reader into a situation; this merely dangled a few titbits in front of your face.

The narrator was difficult to engage with. There was nothing scintillating or captivating about her and when it was the search for her past that we were going on, this wasn't a good sign. Everything is very convenient for both author and narrator; plans falling into place etc that it become unconvincing and I felt myself counting the pages to the end.

I don't always easily enjoy stories within stories and this was no exception. However I can usually find how they link to the story itself. This was just Goodman trying to show of another poor skill that didn't work and in the end I skipped them, they were awful to read! Because the novel is plot, rather than character, driven it seems Goodman knew which path she was following and didn't worry about filling in the gaps or smoothing the edges down to get us there. It lacked care and attention.

The reason for two stars instead of one star is simple - there is a good storyline in there, it just needs another author or a firmer editor. It shouldn't be pitched as a thriller and needed stronger characters.
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on 11 August 2003
Having read the Church of Dead Languages and loved it, I bought this book solely on my impression of the first book. I am so glad that I did as it was wonderful. I spent 6 hours transported in a world of love, mystery, intrigue and fairytale. Iris, accidentally agrees to write a memoir of her writer mother, and to find the missing 'third' book that her mother never got to publish. She gets caught up in the world of the Hotel Equinox which seems far removed from real life, and many of the characters are central to Iris. Everyone has a secret, everyone has ulterior motives, but they all are so reticent to share and polite with it (except for Phoebe).
The intrigue and need to unravel the plot really keeps you gripped to this book, it is a perfect novel, with a mixture of everything you need to retain suspense. Carol Goodman is a very taleneted writer and I hope she keeps weaving the spell for many years to come.
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on 4 March 2004
I finished reading this book about a week ago, and its still on my mind because it is such a powerfully written novel. The prose is stunning and you feel as though you are on the journey with Iris, the protagonist, as she delves into both her own and her mother's past. There is great atmosphere throughout the book and Goodman skillfully threads the tension into every chapter, leading towards a dramatic climax. The contrast between the present, the past and the stories told by Iris' mother helps to keep the reader interested and also leaves a chill along the spine. This is not a conventional thriller but in every aspect it is a thrill.
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VINE VOICEon 4 March 2004
I don't know about other readers, but I find it very disappointing when an author's second novel is just not as good as their first. This, in my opinion, is the case with Goodman's The Seduction of Water.
The problem is that Goodman seemed to be searching for a plot, which did not come across as credible and natural. I loved how the novel began, opening into the life of a struggling writer. Goodman likes to use a narrator who is not pretentious and not arrogant. In fact her narrators are often the underdogs, and the reader is shown all the preoccupations and very normal anxieties of the speaker. However, it is marginally disappointing when all the events (which are quite unusual and interesting) are communicated through somebody who is fundamentally ordinary. There is no unusual outlook, and so the plot seems rather dead.
The plot itself - writer daughter trying to piece together the life of writer mother, trying to find love along the way, uncovering skeletons in several closets - is not at all boring, but I found it slow. The narrator is also writing her own novel throughout, and the snippets of her writing which open each chapter become rather irritating. There were several points at which I thought, 'that man is obviously related to that person...' and it is worrying that I wasn't intrigued enough to read on eagerly. I found Goodman was playing on the reader's curiosity a little too obviously, instead of taking us with her.
I much preferred the Lake of Dead Languages, which has much more vitality and spark.
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on 18 September 2003
I could not put this down. It hooked me from the first few pages and I found myself able to leave until it was finished. The imagery is wonderful and the story gripping.
A worthy successor to The Lake of Dead Languages.
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