Pitiful old Winter has returned ,
Limping up and down our roads,
Spreading his white blanket of snow
While the Cers wind cries in the branches of the pine trees.
- traditional Occitan song
So begins the story of an unsettling encounter between a young British man and an antiquarian bookseller that reveals a ghost story worthy of a Poe short story. In fact, I sometimes felt I was reading Poe, Oscar Wilde, or Henry James, as the tone of this novel has that same sort of solemn atmosphere and a sense of dark foreboding. While I found the story pretty predictable, it was satisfying to curl up in bed with just the bedside lamp on and settle into this story of grieving and eventual healing. The story is sad, but the description of setting and the psychological study of young Freddie, the narrator of this ghost story is compelling.
The year is 1933 and Freddie is in Toulouse,seeking a translator for a document that has come into his possession. When he enters La Rue des Penitents Gris, he is seeking a bookshop run by one Monsieur Saurat. An ancient document written in an old dialect holds a message that has haunted Freddie for four years. Monsieur Saurat is immediately intrigued and invites Freddie to sit over a glass of brandy while he examines the vellum. It's old - very old. The bookseller is intrigued. Before he will translate the piece, though, he asks Freddie how he came upon this important bit of history.
And the story goes from there. Freddie has ghosts in his family closet, but he has also encountered ghosts in the mountainous countryside of Ariege ... his beloved brother has been one of thousands lost to the barbed wire, bombs, and gas of the first world war and Freddie has suffered grief beyond his tolerance. Coming from a sanatorium, after a grief stricken breakdown, Freddie finds himself in the south of France. There, his tender state makes him susceptible to the connections of ghosts from the past. Freddie is the luckiest man, as he encounters a ghost that will heal him at a small price.
This is a good ghost story that began as a short story and grew into a novel. It's the perfect story for a cold winter's night. I've enjoyed Kate Mosse's writing in the past and I will, no doubt, continue to pick up her work in the future.
Could I have picked a more perfect book for this past cold week? In a word, no.