The Lace Reader is one of those intriguing novels where revelations made near the end of the book make you question all the conclusions you’ve drawn while reading it. But I really shouldn’t have been surprised, because we are warned from the beginning that Towner Whitney is going to be an unreliable narrator. Even her name, Towner, isn’t what it appaers to be – nor is much else about her life.
Towner is a young woman with a troubled past, scarred by family dysfunction and mental illness. She returns to her family home in Salem, Massachusetts when her great-aunt Eva dies, but she has no desire to step back into her painful past. Towner hopes to escape the past rather than relive it – but instead she is forced to confront memories so painful they will change everything she thinks she knows.
This is a cleverly constructed novel with a strong sense of place and some beautiful writing. I found it slow to get into, perhaps because Towner’s characdter kept me at a distance – I was much more drawn in when the narration shifted to the viewpoint of Rafferty, the policeman who befriends Towner.
But it’s Towner’s point of view that’s the essential one here, because it’s her version of the story that the reader has to examine and question. Some readers will be inexorably drawn in to Towner’s world, while others, like me, will feel a little uncomfortable with her, while remaining intrigued and impressed by the world her author has created.