The Other Eden
Sarah Bryant is unquestionably a talented writer who deserves a wide readership. Her historical novel set during the time of the Crusades, Sand Daughter, conjures a marvelous evocation of a tumultuous period as seen through the eyes of both Islamic and Christian protagonists engaged in the struggle. Her first novel, The Other Eden, recently been re-issued by Berkley Trade, has an entirely different feel—a homage to the suspenseful classic tales of Daphne du Maurier and the Brontës, with a healthy dash of Victoria Holt’s lady-in-distress thrown in for good measure.
In 1920s Louisiana in a dilapidated antebellum plantation house, Bryant’s heroine Eleanor Rose is a high-strung, aspiring concert pianist whose mysterious family past has haunted her since childhood. Upon her grandfather’s death, she returns to the house where her mother and her mother’s twin sister were raised; here, she begins to uncover clues to the secrets that plague her in the form of vivid nightmares, even as she finds herself trapped between the romantic overtures of an older Russian musician and the elegant interest of a menacing stranger. The atmosphere is steeped in Gothic traditions, and the writing often turns lyrical when evoking Eleanor’s dreams and humid unpredictability of the Louisiana climate, which reflects Eleanor’s increasingly fraught mind. Is she mad? Or is she being made to look mad?
Readers familiar with the twists and turns of this genre will certainly find much to engage them, down to the crumbling house on the hill; and Bryant, as always, excels in capturing the mood, despite her somewhat overly convoluted plot. Nevertheless, a climactic confrontation and wistful finale resound much like the melancholic etudes that serve as the novel’s musical underpinning.