The Ghost Orchid

The Ghost Orchid

by Carol Goodman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345462145
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/10/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 301,616
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Carol Goodman is the author of The Lake of Dead Languages, The Seduction of Water, and The Drowning Tree. The Seduction of Water won the 2003 Hammett Prize and her other novels have been nominated for the Dublin/IMPAC Award and the Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her fiction has been translated into eight languages. She teaches writing at the New School University in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I came to Bosco for the quiet.

That’s what it’s famous for.

The silence reigns each day between the hours of nine and five by order of a hundred-year-old decree made by a woman who lies dead beneath the rosebushes—a silence guarded by four hundred acres of wind sifting through white pines with a sound like a mother saying hush. The silence stretches into the still, warm afternoon until it melts into the darkest part of the garden where spiders spin their tunnel-shaped webs in the box-hedge maze. Just before dusk the wind, released from the pines, blows into the dry pipes of the marble fountain, swirls into the grotto, and creeps up the hill, into the gap- ing mouths of the satyrs, caressing the breasts of the sphinxes, snaking up the central fountain allée, and onto the terrace, where it exhales its resin- and copper-tinged breath onto the glasses and crystal decanters laid out on the balustrade.

Even when we come down to drinks on the terrace there’s always a moment, while the ice settles in the silver bowls and we brush the yellow pine needles off the rattan chairs, when it seems the silence will never be broken. When it seems that the silence might continue to accumulate—like the golden pine needles that pad the paths through the box-hedge maze and the crumbling marble steps and choke the mouths of the satyrs and fill the pipes of the fountain— and finally be too deep to disturb.

Then someone laughs and clinks his glass against another’s, and says . . .

“Cheers. Here’s to Aurora Latham and Bosco.”

“Here, here,” we all chime into the evening, sending the echoes of our voices rolling down the terraced lawn like brightly colored croquet balls from some long-ago lawn party.

“God, I’ve never gotten so much work done,” Bethesda Graham says, as if testing the air’s capacity to hold a longer sentence or two.

We all look at her with envy. Or maybe it’s only me, not only because I didn’t get any work done today, but because everything about Bethesda bespeaks confidence, from her slim elegant biographies and barbed critical reviews to her sleek cap of shiny black hair with bangs that just graze her perfectly arched eyebrows—which are arched now at Nat Loomis, as if the two of them were sharing some secret, unspoken joke—and set off her milk-white skin and delicate bone structure. Even Bethesda’s size—she can’t be more than four nine—is intimidating, as if everything superfluous had been refined down to its essential core. Or maybe it’s just that at five nine I loom over her and my hair, unmanageable at the best of times, has been steadily swelling in the moist Bosco air and acquired red highlights from the copper pipes. I feel like an angry Valkyrie next to her.

“Magic,” says Zalman Bronsky, the poet, sipping his Campari and soda. “A dream. Perfection.” He releases his words as if they were birds he’s been cupping in his hands throughout the day.

“I got shit-all done,” complains Nat Loomis, the novelist. The famous novelist. I’d had to stop myself from gasping aloud when I recognized him on my first day at Bosco—and who wouldn’t recognize that profile, the jawline only slightly weaker than his jacket photos suggest, the trademark square glasses, the hazel eyes that morph from blue to green depending (he once said in an interview) on his mood, the tousled hair and sardonic grin. Along with the rest of the world (or at least the world of MFA writing programs and bookish Manhattan), I had read his first novel ten years ago and fallen in love—with it, with its young, tough, but vulnerable protagonist, and with the author himself. And along with the rest of that little world I’d been immersed in these last ten years, I couldn’t help wondering where his second novel was. Surely, though, the fact that he’s here is a favorable sign that it’s only a matter of time before the long-awaited second novel is born out of the incubator of silence that is Bosco.

“It’s too quiet,” Nat says, now taking a sip of the single-malt scotch that the director, Diana Tate, sets out each night in a cut-glass decanter.

David Fox, a landscape architect who I’ve heard is writing a report on the gardens for the Garden Conservancy, holds up a Waterford tumbler of the stuff, the gold liquor catching a last ray of light as the sun impales itself on the tips of the pines at the western edge of the estate, and proposes a toast, “To Aurora Latham’s Sacro Bosco—a sacred wood indeed.”

“Is that what the name means?” asks one of the painters who’ve just joined us on the terrace. “I thought it was a funny name for an artists’ colony—isn’t it some kind of chocolate milk housewives made in the fifties?”

The other artists, who are just now straggling in from their out- lying studios and cabins like laborers returning from the fields, laugh at their cohort’s joke and grouse that the writers, as usual, have taken all the good chairs, leaving them the cold stone balustrade. One can’t help but notice that there’s a class system here at Bosco. The writers, who stay in the mansion, play the role of landed gentry. Nat Loomis and Bethesda Graham somehow manage to make their identical outfits of black jeans and white T-shirts look like some kind of arcane English hunting wardrobe. Even unassuming Zalman Bronsky, in his rumpled linen trousers and yellowed, uncuffed, and untucked dress shirt, looks like the eccentric uncle in a Chekhov play.

“She named it after the Sacro Bosco garden in Bomarzo—near Rome,” I say, my first spoken words of the day. I’m surprised my vocal cords still work, but, after all, my book—my first novel—is set here at Bosco, which is why I know that the estate isn’t named for a bed- time beverage. I address my remarks to David Fox, though, because the other writers, especially Bethesda Graham and Nat Loomis, still scare me.

Just remember, the director told me on the first day, never call Nat Nathaniel, or Bethesda Beth. I smiled at that evidence of vanity on their parts, but then I remembered that I’d been quick enough to modify my own name to Ellis when I published my first story. After all, who would take seriously a writer called Ellie?

“She saw it on one of the trips she and Milo Latham took to Italy,” I add, “and was inspired to create her own version of an Italian Renaissance garden here on the banks of the Hudson.”

We all look south toward where the Hudson should be, but the towering pines obscure the view. Instead we are looking down on crumbling marble terraces and broken statuary—statues of the Muses, whose shoulders are mantled with the gold dust of decaying pine needles and whose faces (at least on the statues who still have their heads) are cloaked in shadow and green moss. The hedges and shrubbery—once clipped and ordered—have overgrown their neat geometry and now sprawl in an untidy thicket across the hill. The fountain allée, with its satyrs and sphinxes who once spouted water from their mouths and breasts, leads to a statue of a horse poised on the edge of the hill as if it were about to leap into the dark, overgrown boxwood maze—Aurora Latham’s giardino segreto—at the bottom of the hill. Somewhere at the center of the maze is a fountain, but the hedges have grown too high to see it now.

“Actually, the garden’s closer in design to the Villa d’Este at Tivoli,” Bethesda Graham murmurs, sipping her mineral water. “The idea of all these fountains and the springs running down the hill into a grotto and then out to the main fountain and from there to the river and finally to the sea . . . Aurora wrote in her Italian journal that she wanted to create a garden that was the wellspring of a fountain like the sacred spring on Mount Parnassus.” Bethesda pronounces Aurora’s name as if she were a contemporary who’d only moments ago quit the terrace. Of course, I remember, she’s writing a biography of Aurora Latham. Bethesda’s the expert here.

“The whole hill is a fountain,” David Fox says. “One might even say the entire estate. Pumps draw the water up from the spring at the bottom of the hill and then pipes funnel the water down the hill though a hundred channels. On a night like this we would have heard the water cascading down the terraces like a thousand voices.”

Zalman Bronsky murmurs something. I lean forward to ask him to repeat himself, but then the words, half heard and still lingering in Bosco’s perfect silence, sound clearly in my head.

“ ‘The eloquence of water fills this hill,’ ” I repeat. “How lovely. It’s iambic pentameter, isn’t it?”

The poet looks startled, but then he smiles and takes out of his jacket a piece of paper that has been folded in quarters and begins to write down the line. When he sees it’s too dark to, he gets up to go inside. The artists have already gone inside for dinner, their manual labors having given them keener appetites.

“What happened to the fountains?” I ask David Fox, but it’s Bethesda who answers.

“The spring dried up,” she says, taking another careful sip from her glass.

“Not a particularly good omen for those who’ve come to drink at the wellspring of the Muses,” Nat says, downing the last of his scotch. “We might as well go inside for dinner.” He looks into his empty glass as if its dryness stood for the dried-up pipes of the fountain. Bethesda takes the glass from him as he gets up and follows him through the French doors into the dining room.

David Fox and I are left alone on the terrace looking down on the overgrown garden.

“So when you finish researching the garden, will it be restored?” I ask.

“If we get funding from the Garden Conservancy,” he says, draining the last drop of scotch from his glass. I get up and he reaches a hand out to take my wineglass. As his hand brushes mine, I feel a tremor—as if the pipes of the old fountain below us had come to life and were about to send forth jets of water, into the last lingering glow of the sunset. The garden wavers and quakes like a reflection in a pool of water, and I see a slim white figure swimming at its center. I force my eyes shut and, ignoring the sweet, spicy smell that has swept over the terrace, count to ten. When I open them, the garden has gone still and I can see that the slim white figure is only a statue standing below the western edge of the terrace and the scent of vanilla has faded from the air.

“You’re right,” I say, “it is prettier as a ruin.”

He laughs. “I agree, but I never said anything of the kind. The Garden Conservancy would have me fired if I did.”

At dinner I sit between Zalman Bronsky and Diana Tate. I’m glad I’m not next to David Fox, because I’m still embarrassed at what happened on the terrace. Of course he hadn’t said that the garden was prettier in ruins. It was only my imagination. Sometimes after a day of writing, after listening to the voices of my characters in my head, I begin to imagine that I can actually hear their voices.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

1. Mythology and classical allusions abound in The Ghost Orchid. What is their effect? How do these references highlight the dra­matic action of the story?

2. Deterioration is a key trope in the novel. How does it operate? Who or what deteriorates?

3. How did Alice’s treatment at Bosco compare to that of the other Latham children? Exactly what might Aurora have suspected about Alice’s parentage?

4. Why does Bethesda take an immediate dislike to Ellis? What similarities do you see between their relationship and that of Au­rora and Corinth?

5. Water is another central theme throughout this novel, especially as represented by the fountains. Why do you think Goodman chose this element?

6. How convincing is the metafiction, or fiction-within-the-fiction, of The Ghost Orchid? Whose project evokes the strongest response in you? We know how Ellis ends her book, but do you wish you could see the end results of all of the characters’ projects?

7. What parallels exist between Violet Ramsdale’s relationship with Tom Quinn and Bethesda’s relationship with Nat? What do you think Violet and Bethesda’s intentions are with these men?

8. Each character in this book has his or her own agenda, but who is the most selfish? The most selfless?

9. Aurora admits she was not the best mother, yet she does not try to be a better mother to the one child she has left. Why?

10. Do you believe in extradimensional contact? How would you use such power? Is faking this ability necessarily immoral, or simply opportunistic?

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Ghost Orchid 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are drawn to beautifully written literature with an intriguing, intense, web-like plot, romance, and supernatural overtones, this is the book for you! I am an avid reader and enjoy many books, but I have never been so impressed with a book that I felt I needed to write a review about it encouraging others to read it as well, but that is exactly what I am doing now. I started and finished the book yesterday, and I woke up still marveling at the complicated beauty of it this morning. This is truly a book that you can't go wrong with.
TheCrowdedLeaf More than 1 year ago
Carol Goodman always has an unparalleled way of transforming a location in a book into a beautifully haunted atmosphere. Her descriptions jump from the page, and every time she sets her novel in a new location I know it's going to be lush, decrepit, gothic, and wonderful. Her location in The Ghost Orchid is no different. Set at the upstate New York sprawling aged and crumbling Bosco Estate, Goodman unites an intriguing cast of characters amid the ivy-covered statues and dry fountains. Novelist Ellis Brooks has hoped her acceptance into Bosco's notorious writing program would allow her the freedom to pursue her novel in peace. But the past pursues her instead, and she soon finds that the residents of Bosco were not brought together by chance. At times a romantic mystery, at times a suspenseful thriller, Goodman deftly weaves between an ages old missing child case, and the present day sleuthing Ellis is forced to undertake into the people and places around her. Always intriguing, I never want to finish a Goodman novel. Though the writing in this, her fourth novel, occasions into the trite and predictable, I was still engrossed by the scene set before me. I had one issue with the end of the novel and a short side-tracked path that Goodman decided to briefly explore, but it was not the focus of the novel so I can set it aside as author-folly. Overall, I still love her novels and find them to be uniquely mysterious and haunting. I haven't read many other authors that can successfully pull off a mystery while still making it literary. In this day of mass-market quick-publications, I delight in the fact that there are authors like Goodman who take suspense to another level.
Annie5000 More than 1 year ago
Of the thousands of books that I have read, an odd few have stayed with me long after most of the words fade. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was a child, The Shadow of the Wind(sold, the moment I opened the book and began the first chapter entitled, The Cemetery of Lost Books), a few others in various genres in between, and recently, Ghost Orchid. It captured me on the first page, drawing me into the spidery weave of the author's prose, wrapping around and filling my head with imagery and lush emotion. A sense of atmosphere survives; of still being in that place the book took me away to when I conjure up a passage of finely drawn description. Beneath the pretty language is an atmospheric ghost story, a love story transcending time, and a finely crafted mystery. It is centered on an artist's retreat called Bosco. A landmark of history and beauty catering to an artistic chosen few, invited to stay at the estate each season. Bosco allows them to live and dream in a somewhat structured regimen encouraging unhindered creativity without worrying about the mundane facets of existence. For over a hundred years, Bosco has inspired wonderful works, a testament to its picturesquely crumbling architecture and overgrown gardens complete with statuary, underground complex of fountains, and a veiled garden maze. Five people have been invited to Bosco this season. Of the five, the story is largely seen through the gaze of Ellie Brooks who plans to write a book on the catalyst of events of a certain historical summer in 1893. Her counterpart narrator in the past is a medium called Corinth Blackwell, invited to Bosco to contact the spirits of the three dead children of the owners, the Lathams. Corinth's tragic story intertwines with the sadness and deaths that occur at Bosco in the twilight of the nineteenth century. Along with Ellie in the present, is Bethesda Graham a biographer, David Fox a landscape architect, Zalman Bronsky a poet, and Nat Loomis a novelist. It seems that all the beauty created, inspired by Bosco, is penance for the secrets that lie underneath. When the current assemblage of five distinct personalities congregating at Bosco begins to research the history and delve into its secrets, a supernatural doorway opens, enveloping their lives as the past converges on the present. Ghost orchids appear in the gardens, their elusive blooms signifying the change in the air, as the spirits awaken and insist that their stories be told. The past events reenact, charging the air with otherworldly danger. This leads to a volatile sequence of events, and ends finally, on a satisfying note. Read Ghost Orchid, and allow it to take you on a beautifully written, haunting journey.
APrincess4Ever More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 2 days!! I loved it even though at first meeting all the characters at once was a little hard to follow! Once it got going though there was no putting it down! Definitely a beach novel during the summer and a cozy book to warm up with during the winter!
pharrm on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is historical fiction, supernatural and suspense all rolled into one. The vast resources of "Bosco" the estate donated to budding writers, is the backdrop of this complex tale. Ellis Brooks was raised by a mother who is considered a medium. She senses and experiences the background of the vast estate along with other writer's who are part of the writer's experience. She uncovered a mother's love, father's infidelity, and star crossed lovers. Interesting read.
dianaleez on LibraryThing 5 months ago
It's surprisingly hard to find a well-written ghost story, but Carol Goodman's 'The Ghost Orchid' makes the cut. Goodman's usual smooth plotting and sure story-teller's voice are well in place as she tells the story of a haunted writers' retreat. The story is much less important than the atmosphere - and here she is a master at that. This is a good book to curl up with on a quiet weekend - it's not too scary but enthralling nevertheless. But enough with the water imagery. I'm reading Goodman's works in order and enough is enough.
ehines on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A bit pedestrian, but not bad sorta ghost story. I thought the Lake of Dead Languages better all-round. This one has a good main character(s), but rather sketchy and unaffecting secondary characters, and the story is a bit of a stretch even by ghost story standards.
meganharris on LibraryThing 5 months ago
My first read by Carol Goodman. The descriptions were lyrical almost poetically beautiful. The main character was interesting and the story intertwined was mesmerizing. The love story was pretty and a bit twisted as well but not my main focus. I thought the touch of occultism was interesting and the medium subject very cool.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Up until now I have absolutely LOVED Carol Goodman's books -- The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water were absolutely fine mysteries. She takes a different turn here and I'm not so sure I liked it -- the ending had a somewhat contrived feel to it, as if she wasn't sure where to go with it or how to finish the story. Not only that, but I figured out 2 parts of the storyline early on because it was somewhat transparent if you read carefully. However, to be fair, on the flip side, I didn't put this book down until I finished it (4 hours of straight, non-stop read time) because the plot sucked me in immediately. And, once again, I'm at odds with the folks at Amazon -- maybe it's because I don't like books that feel "chicky" or "lovestory-ish." Try it for yourself, and I can recommend this author highly.basic plot:As the story opens, it is during the quiet hours at Bosco, an artists' colony, where among others, writer Ellis Brooks is hiding out in seclusion so that she can work on her novel. She is writing about a tragedy collectively known as the Blackwell affair, so named because of a young medium named Corinth Blackwell who was summoned to Bosco (in New York) in 1893 by one Aurora Latham, the original owner of the property. Latham had given over her property later to artists as a place where they could come and work in peace, so that they would produce work that might lend comfort to those in grief. Latham had asked her husband Milo to bring Corinth to her so that she could know that her children, who died in a diphtheria epidemic, were at peace. But, as the story goes, when Corinth Blackwell left Bosco, Latham's daughter Alice was kidnapped and spirited away by Corinth and her lover, Tom Quinn. Ellis hopes to capture that time in an historical novel, but bizarre events at Bosco lead her down a path she could never have predicted.The story is told both in the present and through Ellis's novel, but in a way, the parallel timelines sort of coincide at points. I like this kind of structure in a novel, personally, so that's a plus. But this one was a bit over the top for me and I feel like the author just sort of copped out at the end. But as I said, I can recommend the novels of Carol Goodman most highly, so read it for yourself.
ilurvebooks on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Excellent book this author knows how to capture the readers imagination and hold it!!
emigre on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A first-time novelist Ellis Brooks gets an invite to a prestigious writers' colony in upstate New York, she's surrounded by geniuses and a beautiful Italian style garden full of sculptures and fountains. One would think this might be inducive to writing, but life has other plans.Ellis is soon discovering clues, real or imagined, that prompt her to discover what happened on this venerable estate more than a hundred years ago. Other writers/poets in residence find themselves ensnared as well, together, they try to unearth the horrors that have taken place in an estate full of hidden tunnels and secret passageways. Goodman skillfully weaves together narratives from the past and present like an intricate quilt, revealing the mystery piece by piece. I was glad to have tried a literary mystery; the abundant poems and myths didn't bore me, instead, they made this page-turner lyrical. The book is pretty heavy on metaphors, which sometimes slowed down the story-telling, still, I kept reading to know more of the sensational story.
PatriciaUttaro on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I thoroughly enjoyed Goodman's earlier work, Lake of Dead Languages, so picked this one up when I happened upon it in the library a few weeks ago. It seemed to have all the elements I like in a story, so I gave it a shot. Sorry I did. I knew immediately I wasn't going to like this book because Goodman resorts to a literary convention I really, truly don't like -- alternating chapters between the present time and an earlier time. I find that incredibly disconcerting and find myself reading all the chapters about one time, then reading all the chapters about the earlier time. Weird, I know, but there you have it.
gfreewill on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I really like her writing. I¿ve read all of her novels so far, and found most of them to be quite good. This one was not an exception. It was a mystery-thriller kind of book that flipped back and forth between the past and present time. This one had a lot of references to mediums, and séances and spirits, so if you are the kind of person that got upset about Harry Potter, then this book is definitely not for you. The story is set at this mansion that has an amazing garden with lots of fountions that is now a retreat for artists and writers. It turns out that everyone that is there is connected in some way to this tragedy that happened one summer over a hundred years ago when two people died and a child was kidnapped. Other than the fact that I found the plot to be somewhat predictable (I had the ¿mystery¿ figured out by about the middle of the book, but I am kind of good at that stuff) I really enjoyed it.
disenchanted on LibraryThing 9 months ago
Entertaining, but I enjoyed The Lake of Dead Languages more.
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This novel was hard to follow
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Cameron Weirbach More than 1 year ago
Simply not her best. Too much going on....inadequate scene description makes this a bit confusing at times.
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