An imaginative, if uneven, debut novel about 13-year-old Penny Entwhistle and the literary heroines that recuperate at her mother’s bed-and-breakfast.
While the Watergate scandal dominates the nightly news, the more pressing concern for Penny is ousting melodramatic Deirdre, a heroine in Irish mythology, from the house, sending her back to whatever overwrought story she came from. Fantastical intrusions on reality have been part of Penny’s life since birth (in fact, the mystery of her paternity may have more to do with the appearance of the heroines, and occasional hero, than her mother has ever let on), and over the years she has come to expect houseguests with far more serious problems than the average traveler. Emma Bovary, Franny Glass, Scarlett O’Hara, Daisy Buchanan—they all come when things get a bit too harried in their fictional lives and need a break from their own plots. The mechanics of this phenomenon are dealt with early in the novel—it’s a mystery, plain and simple. But now Penny’s getting sick of all the activity, and she wants a little attention for herself. In the woods one evening she meets Celtic King Duncan, looking for Deirdre, and Penny promises to lure Deidre into the woods for him to take back to ancient Ireland. When Penny returns home, the police are there and soon Penny is locked up in the loony bin. Betrayed by her mother (she’s afraid Duncan will hurt Penny), woozy on meds and longing for a more normal life, Penny begins to question her own sanity and everything she’s known to be true. Her only plan is to bet on the impossible—she gets a message out to Duncan and hopes he and his trusty steed can break her out of the asylum.
The author has plenty of fun with the visiting heroines, and Penny’s stay in the mental institution is certainly scary, but the literary and real worlds are disconnected, negating the existential promise of the plot.