“Gothic Novel: A novel in which magic, mystery, and chivalry are the chief characteristics” (C.H. Holman and W. Harmon, “A Handbook to Literature”).

Well, that just about solves any questions about the genre of Anne Britting Oleson’s recent book, “Dovecote.” To wit:

Gwynneth Forest has just moved by herself from New England to the vicinity of Daphne du Maurier country in the British Isles. She has unexpectedly inherited an old house from an aunt she never knew — and with whom she shares her given name. The move is a trepidatiously determined effort to get a fresh start on the artists’ life after being mired for years in lonely grief — and guilt — following the death of her husband.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Gull Cottage on Eyewell Lane is mysterious. Almost immediately, Gwynn experiences what’s known in psychology as a “sense of presence” — in other words, a ghost. It turns out she’s not the only one. Behind the house is an unused, decaying dovecote — an outbuilding where domesticated pigeons, or doves, were kept. A hedge of brambles separates it from the house, and these brambles — well, they have a sort of magical way of refusing to be cut back.

Since the great-aunt’s death, the empty cottage has been chivalrously looked after by a local working woman, Mary, and working man, Colin, who turns out to be more than a handyman. They take Gwynn under their wings and become her confidants as she looks for clues to great-aunt Gwynneth Chelton’s life and mysterious motivations.

Soon Gwynn ventures out to the nearby pub, where she has a nasty encounter with an extended family member who is seething over the fact that the cottage was left to Gwynn, a stranger, and not to him. (The pub, by the way, is named The Stolen Child, which — given the literary sensibilities tucked into the narrative here — I’m thinking has to allude to the W.B. Yeats poem of that title, whose refrain includes the line: “The world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” Celtic Twilight gothic.) A few chapters later, a brick through a window of the cottage has to have been the work of the disaffected cousin.


There are slowly unfolding revelations about great-aunt Gwynneth’s long-dead husband, who kept doves; a solicitor bound by professional ethics from telling what he knows; a garden gate that is better left stuck shut; suicide; overcast skies and thunderstorms; dreams in which “something terribly wrong, terribly evil, was just out of sight along the path”; and a love affair for good measure.

All the gothic elements, up to date with jet lag and cellphones, are woven pretty niftily together in this well-written romance set in the psychic vicinity of Manderley and Jamaica Inn.

Anne Britting Oleson lives in Dixmont. Her first novel is “The Book of the Mandolin Player,” and she is the author of several collections of poetry, including “The Church of St. Materiana,” “The Beauty of It” and “Counting the Days.”

“Dovecote” is available from online and local book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at universe@dwildepress.net.

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