×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

A Face at the Window
     

A Face at the Window

by Dennis McFarland
 

See All Formats & Editions

After sending their only daughter off to boarding school, Cookson Selway and his wife, Ellen, travel to London to escape their empty, echoing house. But their quiet hotel has guests other than those on the register, and the vacation turns into a journey not only to another city but to another time. As Selway is drawn into a series of mysterious encounters with a young

Overview

After sending their only daughter off to boarding school, Cookson Selway and his wife, Ellen, travel to London to escape their empty, echoing house. But their quiet hotel has guests other than those on the register, and the vacation turns into a journey not only to another city but to another time. As Selway is drawn into a series of mysterious encounters with a young girl who died in a fall from his hotel window sixty years earlier, he finds that the shadowy rooms and characters of her life become more real to him than those of his own. An escapist with an alcoholic history, he secretly relishes the chance to move from his lackluster reality into the high drama of the girl's past. But as he begins to do so, he jeopardizes his marriage and the lives of those around him, and the consequences of his escape are far greater than he could ever have imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To describe McFarland's subtly plotted, eerily plausible third novel as a sophisticated ghost story does it an injustice, because it is as securely based in the real world as any well-written narrative whose characters contemplate existential questions. The narrator, Cookson Selway, is a flawed man with some unatoned-for sins in his past: having endured a difficult childhood in a dysfunctional Southern family, he enjoyed years of cocaine abuse and alcoholism that tested the love of his wife, Ellen, a mystery writer, and their daughter, Josie. Now comfortably retired and reaching middle age, Cook seems to have survived his escapades unscathed. But when he and Ellen check into the small Willerton Hotel in London, he begins to experience paranormal visions involving a teenaged girl who died in a fall from a window there 50 years earlier. Moreover, he seems to be reverting to the verbally abusive man he once was, and soon Ellen leaves him. Cook then indulges in a marathon interaction with the supernatural world, intermittently calling forth three ghosts and (since one has a doppelgnger) four personalities, each of whom, he gradually realizes, represents some part of himself. Disoriented and surly, he refuses offers of help-until he precipitates a tragedy. While McFarland is adroit at conveying the vertiginous atmosphere of the paranormal world, Cook is never a man one warms to and, under the sway of his obsession, becomes increasingly disagreeable. There's no conventional redemption here. But McFarland (whose previous two novels, The Music Room and School for the Blind, were widely praised) handles his risky premise with intelligence and steely control. In finely honed prose that never succumbs to melodrama, he fashions a fiercely honest exploration of one man's tortured soul. $50,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In this literate ghost story, Cookson Selway flies to England with his wife, who will be sopping up atmosphere for her next mystery. But for Cook the mystery is more immediate; at the hotel, the hypersensitive Cook, who has had odd, out-of-time experiences in the past, hears music no one else hears and then has visitations from a ghostly little girl and her slovenly uncle, who died years ago in a fall from one of the building's window. (But didn't he push her?) With the help of Pascal, the French clerk, and an Asian couple who frequent the hotel's dining room, Cook starts investigating his visitors. Soon he is so caught up in them that he leaves reality behind. The story is beautifully crafted and the tension mounts inexorably, but ultimately it's all for naught. The reader is left wondering, like Cook's wife, why he didn't just quit the hotel when his visions become too threatening. His failure to do so results in a meaningless death, and we still don't learn anything interesting about the putative murder of long ago. A candidate where sophisticated thrillers are read, but not essential like the author's wonderful The Music Room (LJ 4/1/90). [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/96.]Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
McFarland's old strengths (The Music Room, 1990; School for the Blind, 1994) are less evident this time: His often golden style survives, but psychology and focus are bungled in this tale of a man paying for the sins of his past through encounters with ghosts in the present.

Cookson Selway travels for a month in London with his wife Ellen, a writer of mystery novels who wants to do location research. The couple book into the quaint Hotel Willerton, where all seems fine until Cook begins acting strangely, cursing in his sleep, waking up exhausted and reeking of whiskey—all signs of relapse into the depraved life of drugs and booze he'd lived earlier while making his millions as a drugged and dishonest restaurateur in Manhattan and before the purifying miracle of his daughter Jordie's birth (Jordie, now a teenager, is in boarding school back in Cambridge). As much as Ellen pleads, and as much as Cook swears he'll pull himself together, "The Strange Business at the Hotel Willerton" forms a spiral downward—though a painfully slow one as hint after pseudo-Jamesian hint crawls by ("This wordy explanation will have to do. It's the only one I have") before the "ghosts" in the old hotel finally manifest themselves openly by sucking energy from the living Cook. By that time, the ghosts' tales of family murder and long-ago vileness will seem related only distantly to the sins of Cook's own reams-ago and dimly remembered life (his redneck father, one cause of early Cookian guilt, murdered a black man and got off easy), and what takes over instead of deepening character are the mechanics of how ghosts function and what they do. "'I'm very tired,' " one of them says, "'This takes a toll, you know, all this emerging. It's a great pleasure in its own way, but it does take a toll.' "

Many will concur at the finish of this tiresome book that aimed high, but got paled out, then hit low.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780767901307
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/1998
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

Related Subjects

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews