Mangan follows her well-received debut, 2018's Tangerine, with an elegantly elegiac thriller. On the heels of a headline-grabbing drunken meltdown at a London publishing gala, British novelist Frankie Croy accepts best friend Jack's offer to lay low in Jack's family's vacant palazzo in Venice. But unmoored in the exotic surroundings as she waits for Jack to join her, the emotionally vulnerable loner, who has never managed to match her star-making first novel two decades earlier, worries whether at 42 she's suffering a mid-life crisis or some deeper sort of breakdown—which makes encountering a vivacious young admirer who claims to have met her previously, Gilly Larson, a not entirely unwelcome distraction. However, the more Frankie sees of this persistent new acquaintance, who eventually admits to being an aspiring writer herself, the greater her conviction that Gilly has been lying to her. Unraveling answers will lead the increasingly unsettled Frankie into deep waters and some treacherous situations. Though not all the Highsmithian deceptions come off as equally convincing, Mangan, unlike Frankie, more than lives up to the promise of her debut. (June)
"In her taut and mesmerizing follow up to Tangerine, the preternaturally gifted Christine Mangan plunges us into another exotic and bewitchingly rendered locale, this time Venice off-season, moody and damp, where well-known novelist Frankie Croy has gone to escape dark memories. Instead, a surprise entanglement with a mysterious young woman sets Frankie on edge, threatening to unravel her already precarious mental state. Voluptuously atmospheric and surefooted at every turn, Palace of the Drowned more than delivers on the promise of Mangan's debut, and firmly establishes her as a writer of consequence." - Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and When the Stars Go Dark
After the poor reception of her latest novel, capped by a devastating review, a disastrous public outburst, and a stay in a sanitarium, Frances "Frankie" Croy retreats to Venice to regain her footing and begin work on her next book. Venice in the fall of 1966 is not the sunny, glossy tourist destination Frankie had imagined. Instead, although she's staying at a palazzo owned by a friend's family, she struggles on her own in the chilly, labyrinthine city. Just as Frankie starts to get her bearings and begins writing again, she meets Gilly Larson, a young woman who claims a past acquaintance and determinedly inserts herself into Frankie's life in Venice. As the two women spend more time together, Gilly repels and attracts Frankie in almost equal measure. Their relationship comes to a head during the historic Venice flood of November 4, 1966. VERDICT Mangan's excellent sophomore effort (after Tangerine) feels like an homage to Hitchcock and Highsmith both. Frankie feels tensions, both real and imagined, that seep through the story with every word and page. Highly recommended.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI
A bestselling British author takes refuge from self-inflicted scandal in Venice.
Fortunately, this novel is set in the 1960s, since its most crucial plot developments could not have occurred in the 2020s. Glaring among these is the fact that going to Venice to escape a scandal in London would no longer be an option, scandals being inescapable. Stung by a dismissive anonymous review of her latest novel, Frances “Frankie” Croy seethes for a few weeks, then, at a literary gala, confides drunkenly in a waiter before slugging a stranger. The waiter turns out to be a tabloid reporter. After Frankie spends a stint in a posh asylum, her best friend, Jack, offers her family’s palazzo in Venice as a place for Frankie to recuperate and perhaps start the fifth novel her faithful editor, Harold, has been nagging her for. To Frankie’s consternation, Jack and her husband, Leonard, delay joining her in Venice, which, conveniently for the plot, allows Frankie to get in the kind of trouble a lonely midlife author is prone to, especially one with a severe but unacknowledged drinking problem and who fears her talent is waning. Enter 26-year-old fan/stalker Gilly, who buttonholes Frankie in the fish market, claiming to be the daughter of a colleague. At first, Frankie is charmed by Gilly’s youthful hero worship and willingness to befriend an older woman of 42. But something is “off” about “the girl.” Are Gilly’s changing stories calculated or absent-minded? Much of the suspense here is driven by misdirection, abetted by Frankie’s puzzling inability to ask pointed questions. Not surprisingly, it develops that Gilly herself has writerly ambitions, and the narrative takes an All About Eve turn. A reference to Patricia Highsmith, like Chekhov’s gun, will also play out, because Gilly has much in common with Ripley, in that her real aim is to supplant her hero. These tropes wind down in a not entirely unexpected but fitting way.
Against the grim backdrop of off-season Venice, literary rivalry can be menacing.
Emily Pennant-Rea delivers a first-rate narration of Mangan’s intense novel. After a scandalous public breakdown, middle-aged British author Frankie Croy flees to Venice to lick her wounds. Pennant-Rea’s voice adds credibility to Frankie’s paranoia when she meets 26-year-old Gilly, a bubbly fangirl who appears to be stalking her. At first, Frankie is flattered by Gilly’s enthusiastic responses to her writing; then she starts to feel there’s something “off” about the girl. But without the reassurance of her agent, Harold, or her husband, Leonard, she doesn’t trust her instincts. As Gilly’s stories keep changing, Frankie grows increasingly suspicious. When listeners learn Gilly is an aspiring writer, thoughts of ALL ABOUT EVE are inevitable. Pennant-Rea’s subtlety and nuance keep the suspense high and the mystery edgy. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine