Cover image for The haunting of L.
The haunting of L.
Norman, Howard A.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002.
Physical Description:
326 pages ; 22 cm
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"It is 1927. Young Peter Duvett has accepted a job as an assistant to the elusive portraitist Vienna Linn in the remote town of Churchill, Manitoba. Peter's life is about to change in ways he scarcely could have imagined. Across Canada, Vienna Linn has been arranging and photographing gruesome accidents for the private collection, in London, of a Mr. Radin Heur - theirs is a macabre duet of art and violence." "After a strenuous journey, Peter arrives in Churchill on the very night of his employer's wedding only to fall under the spell of Vienna's brilliant and beautiful wife, Kala Murie. Several months later, the uneasy menage a trois moves to Peter's native Halifax. Peter is drawn more and more deeply to Kala as he reluctantly comes to share her obsession with "spirit-pictures," photographs in which the faces of the long-dead or forgotten mysteriously appear - and as he sees more and more terrifying scenes come to life in the darkroom."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1949 and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He attended Western Michigan University, the Folklore Institute of Indiana University, and the University of Michigan.

His work with the Cree Indians created an interest and he then got a job as a translator of Native American poems and folktales. He put together a collection of his translations in the book, The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems of the Swampy Cree Indians, which was named the co-winner of the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award by the Academy of American Poets. With the Help of a Whiting Award, he has also written The Northern Lights as well as Kiss in the Hotel, Joseph Conrad and Other Stories, and The Bird Artist, which was named one of Time Magazine's Best Five Books of 1994 and won the New England Booksellers Association Prize in Fiction.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Norman, the critically acclaimed author of The Bird Artist (1994) and The Museum Guard (1998), has carved out a distinctive literary niche with his spooky, romantic novels by writing about the past (this tale begins in 1926) without the trappings of historical fiction, and using to fine effect Canada's mysterious and dangerous wintry landscape. Here in his fourth work of northern gothic noir, Norman presents handsome 29-year-old Peter Duvett, a darkroom technician who matter of factly recounts disquieting and violent events, including the stories of his parents' freaky deaths and his answering an ad for a photographer's assistant in a tiny town deep in the wilds of Manitoba. Passive and voyeuristic, Peter checks into a rustic hotel with his new employer, the diabolical Vienna Linn, and Linn's sexy wife, Kala Murie, and in no time the three are enmeshed in dire psychological, moral, and financial complications. Revolver-waving Linn specializes in photographing train wrecks and plane crashes, catastrophes he just may engineer. Flaky Kala is obsessed with a nineteenth-century treatise on "spirit photographs," in which the camera captures the souls of the dead, a book Peter enjoys "because it caused me outrage and laughter in equal measure, because it listed activities that traced a wild and dramatic downfall." This pointed critique applies equally well to Norman's droll yet oddly sincere tale of erotic infatuation and jealousy, spiritual longing, murder and greed, helplessness and evil. This is a mesmerizing melodrama rendered magical thanks to lyrical evocations of fog and storm, sexual bliss and fear, a conflation of atmospheric conditions and states of mind that makes of the human heart a realm as treacherous and exquisite as the Arctic. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The stark, unforgiving climate and landscape of Manitoba and Halifax, the symbiotic relationship of art and violence and the unlimited vagaries of human behavior are the idiosyncratic obsessions of this haunting novel, the final book in Norman's Canadian trilogy. Like its predecessors (The Bird Artist; The Museum Guard), it offers a potent mix of eccentric characters, mixed moral motives and love story. In 1926, Peter Duvett meets and sleeps with Kala Murie on her wedding day in Churchill, an isolated village on the shores of the Hudson Bay. Kala's husband is Vienna Linn, the photographer Peter has come to assist. He has traveled from Halifax, escaping painful memories of his mother's suicide or, as he is convinced, her murder. Soon Peter becomes the repository of the emotions and secrets of Kala and Vienna's hazardous partnership. Vienna takes money from an English millionaire, Radin Heur, to arrange and then photograph gory disasters. Unfortunately, the most recent job was botched, so the couple is on the run from the millionaire. Vienna, who eventually discovers Kala's adultery, combines revenge and business when he arranges for a plane with Kala aboard to crash. Kala, however, is merely injured, while the other passengers are killed. Vienna coolly draws on his wife's belief in "spirit photographs" to doctor the pictures of the victims so they seem to show the souls of the dead rising from the bodies, and Heur sends a British verification expert to Canada to authenticate the photos. The wary threesome of Kala, Vienna and Peter are to meet him in Halifax, where a sense of menace rises to a crescendo. The progressive intrusion of the alien and repressed into the familiar what Freud calls the "uncanny" provides the rich base of Norman's art, in which he is becoming a practitioner of uncommon subtlety. (Apr.) Forecast: Norman's steadily growing reputation should ensure a solid audience for this beautifully crafted novel. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Talk about trouble. In this wrap-up to Norman's Canadian trilogy, set in the 1920s, Peter works for a man who photographs accidents he has set up for a deranged client and whose beautiful wife believes in spirit pictures. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



VIEW OF MY EMPLOYER'S WIFE In the four-poster bed, my employer's wife, Kala Murie, lying beside me, the world seemed in perfect order. It was four o'clock in the morning, March 13, 1927. I almost drifted off to sleep. But then I felt a jolt of unease. This was natural to my character. It occurred to me that hidden deep inside my sense of the world in perfect order was the fear that the worst was on its way. It was snowing. The room had light only from the coals in the fireplace and the streetlamp outside the window. The world in perfect order. My room at least. I was living in room 28 of the Haliburton House Inn on Morris Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Herald for March 12 carried the headline: TEMP. DROPS TO COLDEST IN 50 YEARS. There was a photograph of a man wearing a thick overcoat, face invisible under a knit cap, leaning into the terrible blizzard that took the city nearly a week to dig out from under. The caption of that particular photograph was Postal Employee Dirk Macomb heads home -- the right direction? A little humor in the bleakness. Also on page 1: the British ambassador to Canada would stay in Halifax until the weather cleared. The Shipping Page announced that a Danish steamer, the Lifland , after delivering sugar for the Woodside Refinery and lying in harbor for a week, was locked in ice and couldn't set out for Glasgow via London. Also on the Shipping Page: "The schooner Annabel Cameron was at first waterlogged but within a day ice-logged, and the entire crew finally rescued by heroic dorymen navigating a barrage of needle ice and fog." I remember thinking that that sentence had a nice ring to it. More important to my immediate situation, though, was the brief article on page 11: Expert to Lecture on Spirit Photographs . That expert was Kala Murie. Kala and her husband -- my employer, Vienna Linn -- and I had arrived at the Haliburton House Inn on January 8. Our train journey had originated in Churchill, Manitoba, and had taken a total of nine days, the last leg of which, Winnipeg-Halifax, was all fits and starts. The blizzard hit mercilessly hard on that stretch. Half a dozen times the engineers had to stop the train and with the help of porters hack away at ice. "You get a thousand miles of snow on a roof," a porter said -- he was clutching a cup of hot tea, his boots caked with frozen slush -- "I've witnessed it cave that roof in." Vienna and Kala at first occupied room 5 together in the main building. My room was number 28 in the annex, a building with a separate entrance next door. But by early March Kala had moved to room 20. As Kala put it, their marriage was "a loveless sham -- always had been, I suppose." She could be quite blunt. To describe it in the simplest of terms, Vienna was a photographer and I was his assistant. He had persuaded the proprietor of the Haliburton House Inn, Mrs. Bettina Sorrel, to rent him use of one of the pantries directly off the kitchen as a darkroom. Ten dollars a month. I had been away from Halifax since September 1926. When I returned, I never once walked past the house where my mother, aunt, and I lived together, at 127 Robie Street. It was as if the past would judge me. The house would judge me. That merely looking at it would somehow cause me to calibrate my life, and in all aspects of usefulness I would come up short. Next to the bed in my room was a square oak table. On the table was a round doily, a heavy iron candleholder, a white candle in it. The housekeeper always put a new candle in, if need be. Otherwise, there were oil lamps set about. The armoire was nearly six feet in height, a few inches taller than I am. It was situated across from the bed in the left-hand corner of the room, next to a window overlooking Morris Street. For Halifax, Morris Street was steeply inclined. One late afternoon I looked out and saw a daredevil boy ice- Excerpted from The Haunting of L by Howard Norman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.