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Sensory delight

Cover of Palace of the Drowned
A review of Palace of the Drowned by Christine Mangan

Christine Mangan's first novel Tangerine had Patricia Highsmith vibes. Fair commentary. A description even more true I'd say in this, her sophomore effort in which author Frances "Frankie" Croy travels to Venice to lick her wounds and meets an engaging young woman who inserts herself into Frankie's life with dire results.

After writing a promising debut novel, Frankie has found her writing career on a downward trajectory. Her latest novel received poor reviews and Frankie's disastrous public meltdown about one of them landed her in a sanitarium. Her best friend offers the family palazzo in Venice as a place for Frankie to retreat, recuperate and perhaps get her writing mojo back. Venice in the fall of 1966 is not the sunny, glossy tourist destination Frankie imagined and she initially struggles in the chill, labyrinthine city. But eventually she settles into the city's rhythms and begins to write again. And then she meets Gilly. Gilly may or may not be someone Frankie met in the past, but while that mystery gives Frankie pause, she finds Gilly engaging enough to overlook her doubts. As they spend more time together, Gilly both repels and attracts Frankie in equal measure. Clearly Gilly has attached herself to Frankie for reasons of her own, but what are those reasons? By the time Frankie finds out it may be too late. 

This is a slow-build, moody, atmospheric read and one I thoroughly enjoyed. The tensions, both real and imagined, seep through the story like the water does through the cracks in Venice's aging buildings.

Jan 30, 2024