|Simon & Schuster|
31 August 2023
My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book
and to Random Things Tours for the invitation to the blog today
Imagine you’re holding a book in your hands. It’s not just any book though. It’s a tête-bêche novel, beloved of nineteenth-century bookmakers. It’s a book that is two books: two intertwined stories printed back-to-back.
Open the book and the first novella begins. It ends at the middle of the book. Then flip the book over, head to tail, and read the second story in the opposite direction.
Both covers are front covers; and it can be read in either direction, or in both directions at once, alternating chapters, to fully immerse the reader in it.
1880s England. On the bleak island of Ray, off the Essex coast, an idealistic young doctor, Simeon Lee, is called from London to treat his cousin, Parson Oliver Hawes, who is dying. Parson Hawes, who lives in the only house on the island – Turnglass House – believes he is being poisoned. And he points the finger at his sister-in-law, Florence. Florence was declared insane after killing Oliver’s brother in a jealous rage and is now kept in a glass-walled apartment in Oliver’s library. And the secret to how she came to be there is found in Oliver’s tête-bêche journal, where one side tells a very different story from the other.
1930s California. Celebrated author Oliver Tooke, the son of the state governor, is found dead in his writing hut off the coast of the family residence, Turnglass House. His friend Ken Kourian doesn’t believe that Oliver would take his own life. His investigations lead him to the mysterious kidnapping of Oliver’s brother when they were children, and the subsequent secret incarceration of his mother, Florence, in an asylum. But to discover the truth, Ken must decipher clues hidden in Oliver’s final book, a tête-bêche novel – which is about a young doctor called Simeon Lee..
📖 My Review..
There is nothing about The Turnglass which is ordinary and whichever way you choose to read this extraordinary tête-bêche novel, what is absolutely guaranteed is that you will be captivated by both stories.
I chose to start this escape into a complicated past by reading the novella which takes us back to 1880s England where we meet an ambitious young doctor who has been invited to the isolated Turnglass House on the wild coast of Essex. This story chills to the bone and the shadowy secrets which the house offers up ever so slowly is done with such a sense of foreboding that it was with some excitement that, on completion, I turned in order to read the second novella which is set in 1930s California. Initially, there's a lighter tone to the more modern day story but it soon becomes obvious that there are far more secrets involved which seems to focus on clues which we should have picked up in the first story.
Intrigued by the cleverness of the storytelling I raced through both stories in the space of a couple of afternoons as I was captivated by the fine quality of the writing and the way in which this talented author manipulates a dual time narrative with comparative ease. I can say that I've never read anything like The Turnglass before and I think that's where the real magic of the stories lie in that in this unique experience both novellas offer their secrets ever so slowly but with such subtlety that I found myself turning back to re-read sections just to see what clues I missed first time around.
The Turnglass is a compelling story about the question of identity and of being faced with two different versions of a similar story. Now that I have finished both stories I feel that starting with the 1880s novella was a good choice, although of course you can choose to read this clever tête-bêche anyway you choose. The Turnglass will definitely be in my Books of the Year list.
About the Author
Gareth Rubin writes about social affairs, travel and the arts for British newspapers. In 2013 he directed a documentary about therapeutic art at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London (Bedlam). His books include The Great Cat Massacre, which details how the course of British history has been changed by people making mistakes. Liberation Square, a thriller set in Soviet-occupied London, and The Winter Agent, a thriller set in Paris in 1944. He read English Literature at the University of St Andrews and trained at East 15 Acting School.
Twitter @GarethRubin #TheTurnglass