HOUSES OF STONE by Barbara Michaels


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 Reminiscent of A.S. Byatt's Possession, though less lofty, Michaels's latest (Vanish With the Rose, etc.) sets a feminist literary scholar chasing after the origins of an 18th-century manuscript on a Virginia estate--and finding unexpected romance along the way. English professor Karen Holloway is thrilled to come upon a novel by a mysterious early American writer who identified herself only as ``Ismene.'' Karen had begun to make her academic reputation when she discovered and edited a book of Ismene's poetry. Now she recognizes the chance for a scholarly coup. She traces the provenance of the manuscript to an old, decrepit estate in Tidewater Virginia, owned by the handsome, melancholy Cameron Hayes, then takes an apartment in the neighboring town to use as base camp for her explorations. Karen is subjected to the nosy intrusions of her landlady, who ropes her into giving a talk to the local ladies' literary club--but the old woman gets more than she bargained for when Karen mischievously chooses as her topic ``The Pen as Penis.'' Meanwhile, other English professors have caught the scent of a literary discovery and converge upon the town hoping to beat Karen out in bringing to light Ismene's true identity. Quickly it becomes clear that this will be a gloves-off competition: Karen is attacked in her apartment, nearly run over, and stalked. Her search is also impeded by eerie supernatural events: every time she approaches an old stone bunker in the woods near the estate's main house, a disembodied scream rings out, scaring her witless. Adding to the suspense is a question: Will the bristly Karen allow herself to be won over by either of the two men vying for her affections- -the taciturn Cameron Hayes and the slick rival scholar Bill Meyers? It never gets the pulse pounding, but it's diverting--with a refreshingly intelligent and unstereotypical heroine.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-68949-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993


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