” For the first time it occurs to me that whoever is sending these signs is as frightened of me as I am of her. Whoever she is, and I’m certain it is a she, was silent until I talked to Roy Corey in the cave. Then she sent the corniculum. Tonight, when she saw me in Dr. Lockhart’s office, she retaliated by dropping that slide in Maia Thornbury’s carousel. It’s as if we are playing tug-of-war wth the past, you look into my past, she s telling me, then I’ll fling your past back at you. ” (Ch.29, p.326)
The Lake of Dead Languages is a gothic mystery set in an all-girl prep school in upstte New York. When Jane Hudson returns to her high school alma mater, as a Latin teacher, tragic events of the past in which she was involved begin to resurface—recurring in the same way as if the school has some evil force to churn up the past. Twenty years earlier at Heart Lake, roommates Jane, Lucy and Deirdre were inseparable. They studied Roman and Greek classics under the tutelage of the mesmerizing Helen Chambers. The girls would sneak out for skinny dipping in the lake, recreate pagan rites, and arrange to meet boys in the sheltered woods of the campus. Jane became intimate friends with Lucy’s brother Matt but their secret friendship ended in the winter of senior year, amid scandal and suicide.
But that year a lot of girls wouldn’t be coming back. Two students and a town boy had drowned in the lake and a teacher had to be let go because she had somehow been involved. (Ch.24, p.230)
But there’s more to the tragedy—and only Jane knows the truth. Two decades later, returning to Heart Lake as a teacher, the secret not returns to haunt her, someone bearing a grudge against her also begins a macabre campaign against her, in the form of a reenactment. The latest victim is one of Jane’s troubled young students, who is found dead in the frigid waters of the lake. It spears to be suicide but Jane knows better.
As Jane probes the person behind this vendetta, the dark and hocking secrets of Jane and her friends’ adolescence are gradually revealed in flashbacks, until they converge seamlessly with the events in the present. The past seems to always haunt the present and the present could never escape the past. The story, the plot, the intertwining of characters and their histories are intriguing, but the execution is not. The Lake of Dead Languages proceeds in a very sluggish pace. The story is choked and bogged down by overwrought emotions and excessive, unnecessary details. That constant remind of ice and snow, the obsession with ice cracks, all the mentions of precipice of the ice and moaning of the ice on the lake in the middle of the night—just too much and tedious. The hook on the Latin language is admirable. The book is at times drearily predictable and overwrought, but most always a good mystery with the plot twists and the peeling of interlocking secret, minus all the descriptive obsession with ice and cold.
400 pp. Ballatine Books. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]