The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
by Scott Wilbanks
Pub: 4 Aug 2015
Buy from Amazon UK
I expect the word whimsical will be used a lot in reviews of Scott Wilbanks’ debut novel . It is and that should also alert you to the fact that some folks are going to really love this book, whilst others will find things to get annoyed with, which probably make them tut loudly. It is, I’d say, possible to find yourself doing both. It’s a book about five misfits, a magic door and a lot of time travel.
Our main protagonist is Annabelle Aster. Adopted, obsessed with Victorian clothing, she’s also ill and in need of a bone marrow transplant. She also has a Kansas wheat field and a small cabin in her garden that wasn’t there before. She’s not alone.
Elsbeth Grundy, a loner (“She’d been happy once, but a bitterness had set in”) who lives in a cabin in middle of nowhere in Kansas has also awoken to find a strange house in her back garden. “Rising about the wheat in the distance sat a purple and gold mountain of a house.” Riled by this she attempts to knock on the door, but finds she can’t so instead pens a letter and posts it in a brass letter box that sits on the picket fence around the house.”You can imagine my surprise then when I woke up to find that overbearing piece of conceit you might otherwise call a house sitting in my back forty”
Annie too seems unable to knock on the door. But she can see the letter and an exchange begins.
How is this happening? It seems to have been sparked off by the purchase, by Annie, of an antique door. A old newspaper cutting soon reveals the door was a stage prop designed by illusionist David C Abbot, and also the fact that Abbot was murdered. Whilst this clearly happened in Annie’s past, in Elsbeth’s it has yet too. Should they try to interfere, warn him? Will doing so change the future?
This event and the battle for the ownership of the door lies at the heart of this wonderfully enjoyable novel.
I mentioned five misfits at the start. In addition to Annie and Elsbeth we also have Annie’s friend Christian: a handsome, socially awkward stutterer with a heart of gold. A man who spend his entire life with his head in a book. He also suffers from some memory loss as the result of a car crash, and has hallucinations and keeps seeing that face of another man everywhere; Edmond (that man); and a little pickpocket called Cap’n. Add to those the murderous Ambrosius Culler and his henchman Danyer – who cuts off the pinkies of his victims; a gallant suitor, called Nathaniel and David C Abbot and you’ve got yourself the cast of characters that keep you turning the pages
I have to admit early on I wasn’t sure about this book and I was, indeed, verging on tutting. But then I just decided to let myself be swallowed up by the tale in the same way I did when I read The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Night Circus, both books which share things in common with Wilbanks’ novel. Once I did that it was hard not to like this quirky whimsical story. Also how can you not like a man who chooses the make such a huge Wizard of Oz joke by having a house from Kansas appear in Annie’s garden.
Yes, you could argue that the final third of the book tries to crams just too much stuff in, so feels a little rushed and that has a level of coincidences that would make even Paul Auster blush, but the characters are well drawn and likable, the plot buoyant and the overall effect is one of enjoyment. Expect it to sell by the bucket load and for the film rights to be snapped up quickly.
Review copy supplied by Sourcebooks Landmark/Netgalley