From the award-winning author of Somewhere in France and Double Stitch, a story collection so varied that it could only have sprung from the imagination of a master. The Magellan House cuts to the bone, its characters trying to maintain their decency and sanity while surrounded by duplicitous, confused, manipulative people.
In Fugitive Color, an American painter's year in Provence teaching for at an idyllic art college is destroyed by the perverse intrigues of staff and students; In The Magellan House, a poor family takes over their landlord's seaside mansion after the revolution in Portugal-but their daughter maintains a secret love affair with a scion of the deposed family; In The Head of Farnham Hall a headmaster is forced to leave her post because a student wrongly accused of death-threats takes pathological advantage of the contrition owed her; In The Doll House, a rural French pr iest is ruined by his own innocence, incapable of grasping the modern world around him in all its obscenity; In The Morse Operator, a brilliant decipherer of Morse Code can't navigate the military intelligence of the American Army during World War II; And in The Shape of the Past, a respectable widower defends himself against charges of child molestation that are alleged to have occurred decades earlier. In total, this collection is wrenching, but redemptive. Gardiner's graceful, sophisticated prose mirrors the dignity of characters who refuse to succumb to the shifting, double-dealing world.
Life is a minefield for the unsuspecting protagonists of nine wide-ranging tales. Take the Moura family, in the title story, set in Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship. Working-class folk, the Mouras have a small summer cottage on the estate of the Carvalhos, wealthy vineyard owners. After Carvalho prompts him to express his disgust for the tyrant, Moura gets a visit from the secret police. Fortunately, the regime is crumbling, and Gardiner describes a curious trajectory: The flight of the Carvalhos, the occupation of the mansion by the Mouras, and their eviction by their own daughter, married in secret to the Carvalho heir. Another trap is sprung in "Leaving Port McHair." In 1967, in Washington, that "city of deception and stagecraft," Paul, one of a small riverbank community of left-wing activists, is set up by an informer, while across the river in Virginia, retired widower Walter Paige is fighting a trumped-up lawsuit alleging child abuse 30 years before ("The Shape of the Past"). Young English schoolboy Tony Hoskins, crossing the dangerous Atlantic in 1941 to reach safe harbor in Canada ("The Voyage Out"), has to deal with his cabinmate's attempts at sodomy; when his persecutor disappears overboard, Tony has a long struggle to affirm his innocence. Old Father Anthonie, a village priest in the Pyrenees seeking to protect his flock, is tripped up by the snares of the computer age ("The Doll House"). In his third collection (after The Incubator Ballroom, 1991), novelist Gardiner moves easily among the decades and the continents, though unfortunately there's excess overlap between "Fugitive Color" (an art school in Provence) and "The Head of Farnham Hall" (a Pennsylvania girls' school). Both involve anonymous death threats, a problem student, and an institutional reputation hanging in the balance. Gardiner is a busy writer, his controlling sensibility always in evidence, sometimes stifling his characters' autonomy. Whether it's Portuguese adversaries or radicals on the Potomac, they know their places in the well-choreographed dance. A mixed batch from a superior craftsman. (Kirkus Reviews)