A HOUSE LIKE A LOTUS by Madeleine L'Engle


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An intricate, ultimately overdrawn story about sixteen-year-old Polly O'Keefe and her coming of age. Geographically, Polly moves from her home on Benne Seed Island (off South Carolina) to Athens and Cyprus but what L'Engle really tracks is Polly's emotional course. L'Engle begins in Athens and, through present narrative and frequent recall, contrasts Polly's three days escorted by Zachary Gray to her previous eight months as the protegee of Maximiliana Home, a wealthy neighbor who dazzled the teenager with art and champagne, philosophical conversations and timely encouragements. What the reader senses for a while--a betrayal back at Benne Seed--is disclosed by the time Polly reaches Cyprus. Max, who first concealed a fatal illness, loses control one night (bourbon for the pain) and reaches out to Polly for more than friendship. Recoiling, Polly runs to friend Renny, who first comforts and then seduces her. She has two more approaches from men before reaching a new equilibrium. L'Engle is such a practiced storyteller that although Max herself and the evolving relationship seem unoriginal, the actual telling is suspenseful. And she makes Zachary different enough from the others in Polly's life to make the Athens episode credible. But although the final revelations, made while Polly works at a conference in Cyprus, are fitting, the conference experience itself unbalances the book. Jammed with a complete set of new characters, customs, and themes, it makes the book too rich--like having three desserts after a roast beef dinner. L'Engle attempts a lot here and accomplishes much of it, but readers may well jump ship before Polly heads for home.
Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1984
ISBN: 0312547986
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1984


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