A Density of Souls - Christopher Rice

Ladymol's Review

This is a truly remarkable novel. To say I was captivated would be an understatement. That it was set in New Orleans only added to the richness of this reading experience. There is even a hurricane and, given the current events, the evocative description of this wonderful city besieged by the storm took my breath away.

This is a story about absolute horror and goodness, darkness and light and the instruments for those extremes. Meeting the main characters at fourteen, the story takes Meredith, Steven, Brandon and Garth through eight years of their lives where friendships are torn apart. At times, this was a very painful book to read. Itís hard to believe the cruelty of young people and the horrors that await them at school for the mere fact of being different. Singled out by his former friends for particular punishment, Stephen is labelled a fag and his life becomes a daily struggle to retain the essential parts of himself.

Reading the book is like doing a jigsaw: you donít get the full picture until the very end. What you think you are seeing isnít necessarily the case and horrors lie just beneath the surface, waiting for the right moment to rise up and biteórather like the snakes and rats that emerge during the hurricane.

The writing is wonderful. Every other line you read something you wished youíd written, something you want to immediately send to someone else to see.

This book would make the most wonderful film: itís amazingly visual and I think some of the subtler elements in the novel would be enhanced in a filmed format. To me, the book seemed a religious allegory. The devil (character) is closely associated with snakes and the swamp (pit). The hero is practically crucified and wrapped in only a flag borne aloft pale and bleedingóyou canít help but see Christ in your mind. He is sent an angelóor thatís how I see one of the men in this book. He is described as being perfect of face and bodyósurely angelic. He brings Stephen out of a very dark place, a place where he sees no light in the world, and gives him back faith.†

This is a novel to treasure and read again and again. I urge you to give it a go; Iím fairly sure youíll love it like I did.


Cerisaye's Review

What is it with New Orleans?† Every book I read set there is suffused with violence and death, a corruption of the soul that apparently comes from the air and water: old world decadence meets frontier freedom and festers in the miasma, far from Americaís founding fathersí vision of the City on the Hill.†

This superb gothic novel is a suspenseful mystery story as well as poignant account of coming of age/coming out and first love.† It unforgettably shows what happens when internal homophobia turns outward, enmeshing those it touches in a hateful tangle of shameful desires and repressed passion leading to murder and much suffering.

I normally scribble notes while reading a book as an aid to my Swiss Cheese memory- I read so much and quickly itís the only way to keep track.† However with this book I didnít know what to think, maybe because it was at the end of my holiday period of intense reading and near burnout, though in any case it kept confounding my expectations.† Now Iíve only impressions and a memory of something totally compelling with so many twists I was quite dizzy.

It features an ensemble cast of four main characters, three boys and a girl, best friends about to move from childhood to adolescence, a rite of passage signalled by starting high school, where they discover peer pressure a stronger force than loyalty.†

The school is posh and private.† These are rich privileged kids, from the finest New Orleans familiesÖan aristocracy whose histories are a tangle of secrets, hidden passion and, of course, feuds, all of which impact upon the lives and experiences of the central characters.

Stephen is the most sympathetic, the one thrown to the wolves by the others because heís different i.e. gay.† His former friends turn their backs on him, become perpetrators of the worst homophobic abuse, though Greg wasnít averse to youthful experimentation with Stephen and remains very tight with Brandon.† Meredith is the one I felt sorry for, in thrall to relentless peer pressure, generally messed up and painfully unhappy, all too aware of her betrayal.† We get insight to the character through journal extracts, and I really wanted her to overcome her demons, because she genuinely cares for Stephen.

Nothing about this novel is predictable.† Stephen who seems so weak and vulnerable is actually the strong one, which I really liked about this novel.† He is sustained through the hell of high school by a photo of a blond Adonis, former head boy, Jordan, older brother of Brandon.†† When the two finally meet, sparks fly; but their love is shadowed by a long-buried secret.†

Thereís no way a synopsis can do justice to the story.† Thereís just too much plot and telling only makes it sound melodramatic and OTT; but believe me when youíre reading itís totally absorbing, compulsively page-turning, moving, often heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting, the triumph of the human spirit. †Donít miss this one.

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