Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Review: 'Constant Guests' by Patricia Nedelea

Transylvania author Patricia Nedelea began her life on the stage – as a professional actress – then became an academic (she earned four Master Degrees and then two PhDs – one in deconstruction writing and the other in Medieval and Renaissance history with an emphasis on Tarot history. Her first publication, a deconstruction and reconstructed Shakespeare, was ‘Femina Ludens’. The other PhD was on Medieval and Renaissance history, more specifically on Tarot history. ‘My novel Constant Guests offers an alternative answer to those questions.’

Finding a ‘category’ in which to place Patricia’s exceptionally well-crafted debut novel is a challenge. It is at once an examination of contemporary society with all the media obsession objects and complications/benefits while being a thriller and a romance of the sort written in past centuries, but it is also a scientific investigation of history with an emphasis on the mystical (if understanding the meaning of Tarot card interpretation can be called mystical). And it is also a mood piece that blends reality with dream life so distinctly that Patricia seems to be rising out of the realm of the seers, the interpreter of dreams, the source for explaining the inexplicable.

The Prologue introduces our main character Isa submerged in water (much like the art of the cover suggests) – ‘My instinct tells me to swim to the surface. I'm fighting it. I slowly exhale. I open my eyes again and they burn terribly. It's darkness, more darkness. I dive down, while the air bubbles and my life are fleeing in the opposite direction. I shouldn't panic. One of my ears pops; the sharp pain invades me. I feel there is something next to me. I do not see what. I touch it. It's the hand or the foot of a corpse. I scream. I exhale all the air I have left. My heart is breaking out of my chest. The other ear pops. This one hurts even more. I do not want to die. I'm struggling. I'm trying to swim to the surface. I can't. I do not want to die! My hair has caught in something. I fail to free myself from it. The vortex pulls me down strongly. I feel my hair breaking. A ray of light is coming from somewhere below. I see a skeleton. No, there are two skeletons entangled in the weeds. I'm diving next to them. I see the glowing skulls shining in the dim light. I'm suffocating. Do not inhale! I tell myself. I'm in my twenties and I threw my life away. Why? What for? I don't know any more. I’ve made a terrible mistake. I'll drown. There's no more air left. I don't want to inhale water, but I inhale. I shouldn't have…’ That is a taste of the tenor in store in this fine book.

Patricia offers a synopsis that is sound: ‘How would you feel if you found out one day that your mother wasn't your mother and nobody had a clue who your father might be? This is what happens to Isa, a cynical party girl from Paris whose life is abruptly changed. When Mara, her real mother dies in front of her eyes without saying a word, Isa wants to find out what Mara was searching for in 1991, before she went into a coma. But Isa soon discovers that she is not the only one searching for answers, and that her life is in danger. What is the secret that people are prepared to kill for? As Isa is drawn into a dark labyrinth of mysteries, she uncovers four lost-and-found stories related to a tarot deck from 1389. Four stories have to be told, twenty-four tarot cards have to be united and one great secret has to be revealed. She was looking for her mother's secret. Instead, she found the world's greatest secret.’

This epic novel travels through time (history plays a significant role) and through many locations in Europe with characters created to bring each to life. It is illuminated with color images of the Tarot cards – as fine as any we’ve seen. It is a very captivating and impressive novel by a significant new artist. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, August 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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