In the standard domestic drama, a poor lonely girl comes to work for a rich lonely man, and the two fall in love, a la Jane Eyre
. The thought-provoking Coral Glynn
begins in just this way. It's right after World War, and Coral comes to nurse the dying mother of Major Clement Hart—an Englishman whose leg and confidence have been badly damaged on the battlefield. The Major quickly falls in love with Coral, and the two decide to get married, until a gruesome murder in the neighboring woods sends Coral fleeing back to London. For a few pages, it seems as if this book may turn into a Gothic thriller: how will the two reunite and who exactly is the killer? But Peter Cameron is so much more of skilled and subtle writer than this. Underneath his page-turning plot is a careful, complex examination of loss—and the human ability to fully experience love after too much loss. Coral has suffered all kinds of quiet, devastating violence in her own life—the unspoken kind that's either ignored or simply expected when it comes to working-class woman, post-war or not. It's her emotional life that becomes the real mystery of the novel. Coral can't engage with others, even as they become entranced, if not bewitched, by her. She tries to connect, of course, and at strange, unexpected times, longs for more, such as when she enters a florist shop and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the flowers, feeling "in some way that ll the life and warmth of the cold, drab town, of her life, had collected in this room—that she was in the hot golden center of the world." Here is the pleasure of the novel—albeit a painful one. In bringing Coral to life, Cameron knows what not to say, how to leave the kind of tiny, white space that lets us readers imagine the huge, colorful, overwhelming world of even the most broken human heart.
— Leigh Newman