The Name of Annabel Lee by Julian Symons
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"The Name of Annabel Lee", my sixth book by Julian Symons and the weakest of the six, tries to entice the reader by using references to works of Edgar Allan Poe. Annabel Lee and Lenora, characters in the novel, are titles of his poems, and the House of Usher, which appears in the book, is the subject of his famous short story. Yet the connection between the story and Poe's motifs is quite tenuous and to me the whole Poe concept is a failed gimmick.
Dudley Potter, a Brit, teaches literature at an East Coast liberal arts college. While watching a play performed by a fringe theater group, he meets Annabel Lee, a young woman associated with the group, and becomes totally obsessed with her. She seems to like him as well and they live together for twelve weeks. When she suddenly vanishes leaving a message that declares the end of the affair, Dr. Potter embarks on a search for her, which takes him to New York, Boston, and England, where he visits his old friends in London and travels to the Yorkshire coast. During the journey he faces the shadows of his own past.
The best thing about the novel is solid, smooth writing, which is usual for Mr. Symons, the intriguing first sentence ("[...] yet there is a sense in which it could be said that Annabel Lee died twice") and the beautiful quote from Conrad Aiken ("Remember how you took the harlot's hand - And saw one instant hell's dark hinterland.") To me the novel totally lacks focus, and it suffers from a very common syndrome of mystery books: the author puts too much trust in the effect of the surprising ending. I have found the penultimate chapter hard to read, and the surprise to have been put there just for the effect. Totally forgettable novel, virtually a disaster if one compares it to the same author's fantastic "The Progress of a Crime" .
One and three quarter stars.
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