cover image The Beautiful Child

The Beautiful Child

Emma Tennant. Peter Owen (IPG, dist.), $13.95 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-0-7206-1481-7

This unusual ghost tale is set in present-day Rye, England, where Henry James wrote his late masterpieces. The primary narrator, English professor and James scholar Jan Sunderland, visits Rye over the holidays to discuss a media venture, which he, a self-proclaimed Luddite, is less than enthusiastic about. Things take a turn for the strange when a bookseller arrives with a manuscript that discusses and contains James’s unfinished work, “The Beautiful Child.” Manuscript excerpts and other diversions from the primary narrator represent intriguing ideas but detract from the atmosphere and suspense, making the climactic events more perplexing than terrifying. Sunderland comes across as unpleasantly judgmental, and while his opinions are clear, his motivations are not. Though the attempt at a ghost story that is both postmodern and Jamesian is admirable, the result is more style than substance, and readers would do better to revisit The Turn of the Screw. (June)