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Observatory MansionsReview - Observatory Mansions
A Novel
by Edward Carey
Crown, 2001
Review by Su Terry
Oct 13th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 41)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to think and feel from a completely different prospective? I mean completely different! Edward Carey successfully does this in his novel entitled, Observatory Mansions. It is a strange novel about people living outside the boundaries of the norms for society.

"Observatory Mansions" was the former manor house on the Orme family estate. As the novel begins it sits behind a high claustrophobic wall in a middle of a roundabout in an unnamed English city. The dilapidated house has been sub-divided into home to seven outcasts from society. The remnants of the Orme family reside in apartment six. The main protagonist is Francis Orme, junior. He works as a human statute in front of the public library, wears white gloves that he never removes, and is the self-proclaimed curator of a private collection of "loved objects" that he has surreptitiously "collected" from their owners. Francis Orme, senior, has neither spoken nor moved in over twenty years following a stroke. Alice Orme, his wife, is slightly more communicative, but she has taken to her bed, with eyes and mouth shut, dreaming she is anywhere but where she is. Peter Bugg, apartment ten, is a self-retired teacher who "cries and sweats and smells of a hundred different smells." Claire Higgs, apartment sixteen, lives in the reality of her television and is only willing to confront the reality at her door during commercial breaks. Dog Woman, better known as "Twenty" (her apartment number) barks, growls, bites, and runs with a pack of wild dogs in the local park. Finally, there is the Porter, basement apartment, who also lacks a name and spends his time scrubbing holes in the already threadbare carpets and hissing at the other tenants. Into this strange world, comes Anna Tap, apartment eighteen, who was an artisan of material restoration for a museum until she began to go blind from her work. In her unique way, she strives to pull each of the tenants out of themselves to reveal their hidden stories and finally to restore them to the "normalcy" of society sometimes to tragic consequences.

Observatory Mansions is an unusual and haunting novel. The story of Observatory Mansion is told through the various viewpoints and in the unique voices of its tenants. While each character appears to be very bizarre and often quite unlikable, the more I read and began to understand their pain, the more I could empathize with their unique way of viewing the world. Initially, it took me three tries to get into this book. Part I, introducing the characters and their interaction, left this reader feeling the disjointed dizziness of a funhouse. Once Anna Tap arrives at the end of Part I, and the characters are set in context in Parts II and III, their viewpoints begin to develop clarity and the storyline comes into focus. By this point, I found it almost impossible to put down. I began to think about the stories of the characters and I could not wait to get back to the book to discover the story and mental process of another character. A crisis situation forces each of the tenants to respond by drawing on their inner resources. Some will regress to former coping mechanisms while other draw on newfound strengths. The ending has all the thrills of a roller coaster ride. Long after I turned the last page, the characters continued to haunt my mind. Part "Addams Family" part "Far Side" cartoon, this novel is recommended for those seeking a different kind of reading experience and who are not afraid to risk being slightly confused or feeling a bit disjointed. That, however, is all part of the "Quality Design" of taking up residence in Observatory Mansions.

© 2001 Suzanne Garrison-Terry

Suzanne Garrison-Terry
Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.

Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted" female Christian mystics and additional biographical information, I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began having "vision" on or about the age of 40!


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