Following several lauded volumes of nonfiction, visual artist Kris Waldherr delivers an accomplished debut novel, The Lost History of Dreams, an atmospheric and hypnotic love story that not even death can end.
Wracked with grief over an accident that befell his wife three years previously, Robert Highstead has cut himself off from his family and turned his back on his writing, instead devoting himself to photographing the dead as one final memento for their family members. Incapacitated by sorrow, Robert remains ensconced in the past, one in which he and his wife are still madly in love with each other. But when Robert’s brother reaches out and requests that he head to the wilds of Shropshire to deliver the body of their cousin, the famed poet Hugh de Bonne, Robert finds himself powerless to refuse. Hugh’s last request was that his remains be buried beside his own wife, Ada, and that he be photographed alongside his niece and heir, Isabelle Lowell, in a dazzling glass chapel built in Ada’s memory. When Robert arrives at his cousin’s estate, however, he receives a prickly reception from Isabelle, who holds the only key to the chapel. In no uncertain terms she tells him that Hugh will never be allowed entrance to the chapel and that Robert is wasting his time. Finally the two strike a deal: Over the course of five evenings, Isabelle will relate Ada’s story, and Robert will transcribe it. Only after the story is completed will Isabelle open the chapel, and the many ghosts tethering both her and Robert to the past can finally be laid to rest.
“Love stories are ghost stories in disguise,” Isabelle warns Robert on their first evening together. The Lost History of Dreams is a sensual, twisting gothic tale that embraces Victorian superstition much in the tradition of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights; the mystery is slyly developed, while the love story is tastefully titillating.
In a novel that blurs the line between life and death, nothing can be taken for granted, and just when you think you have everything figured out, Waldherr turns the tables once again. This means that at times the narrative becomes convoluted and certain plot points don’t come to fruition, but it’s still an absorbing read.