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Previous Books: Make Believe , Arrogance


Poetic prose enriches this evocative, carefully observed but slight story of Americans abroad. The tiny, remote, once mineral-rich Italian island of Elba, Napoleon's penultimate exile and infamous for the daddy of all palindromes, is nowhere tourists ventured in the mid-1950s. But for unemployed Murray Murdoch, husband to Claire and father of their four energetic boys, it's where the whole family can live cheaply while he undertakes grandiose fortune-making schemes. Setting his sights on finding the rare Elban tourmaline, borrowing to buy worthless land at triple its value, he comes afoul of and elderly and eccentric Englishman named Francis Cape, a failed Napoleon biographer nursing unrequited love for young Adriana Nardi, daughter of a prominent family. Cape imagines a rival in Murdoch, which leads to bizarre and fatal consequences. The sometimes Gothic tale is told in various voices, primarily those of Claire and son Ollie, who returns seeking answers to what happened when he was a child. Scott (Make-Believe) has won Guggenheim and MacArthur grants and teaches creative writing at the University of Rochester. Recommended for all libraries. Jo Manning, Barry Univ., Miami Shores, FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"TOURMALINE once again shows Joanna Scott to be a writer who takes different directions from book to book, a quest, like the one for tourmaline, that involves looking for something when you don't know what you're looking for, and separates the genuine artist from the fake."

Napoleonic history, geology and a father's folly are woven together in this captivating novel by Scott (The Manikin; Make Believe). In 1956, extravagant, debt-ridden Murray Murdoch takes his wife and four young sons on a vacation to Elba, where he becomes convinced that he can profit from the island's abundant deposits of semiprecious gems. When the summer comes to an end and Murray still hasn't found the valuable tourmaline that he's looking for, the Murdochs decide to postpone their departure indefinitely. Their idyllic existence is shattered when a mysterious local girl goes missing and the community begins to suspect that the "investor from the United States" is somehow involved. The story is told by Ollie, the youngest of the four boys, who was five when the family arrived on the island and is 50 now. His memories are shaded by both a child's imagination and an adult's nostalgia, which allows Scott to explore some of the less straightforward aspects of the story. Entranced by the island's beauty, the boys communicate without speaking, and their mother, Claire, becomes uncharacteristically dreamy and distant. Murray's hunt for treasure grows increasingly desperate and futile, and finally, in an attempt to escape his responsibilities, he disappears on a three-day drinking binge. A few of Scott's departures from traditional narrative are tiresome, especially the pages devoted to the inner thoughts of an elderly British historian as he dies, but details of Elba's rich history, and particularly of Napoleon's exile there, are artfully woven into the narrative. This is an absorbing picture of a family rediscovering themselves in a foreign land. (Sept.) Forecast: Scott has garnered fervent praise from the likes of David Foster Wallace and Michael Cunningham this novel's hushed prose likens her more to the latter than the former but she has yet to escape the writer's writer ghetto. The exotic Mosquito Coast theme of Tourmaline may win her a few new readers. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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