If February was when Americans finally caught up with Edward St. Aubyn on the publication of his fifth novel, let March be the month that Peter Cameron has a breakout bestseller with his superb sixth novel Coral Glynn [Kindle]. The difference is that St. Aubyn writes good novels the way that's popular now -- each about the same character, a not at all disguised version of himself, allowing him to dole out nuggets of interview gold, revealing which parts are true -- and Cameron writes great novels the way they are intended to be, as art of pure imagination.
Never repeating himself, ever expanding into new territory, Cameron for the first time here sets his story in England and in the past. Arriving in the spring of 1950 at a cold country manor house to nurse a bitter, dying woman, young Coral disrupts the untenable balance between the sole heir, the wounded WWII vet Major Clement Hart, and his jealous (former?) lover Robin, who is married to a rather too jolly Dolly. On her first free day away from the house, Coral takes the bus to town and watches a movie called "An Odd Marriage," about a bigamist and his two wives - country and city - played by the same actress. Strange relationships, double personalities, and the word 'odd' echo throughout this disquieting novel that captures what it must have been like to live in a nation muddling through profound shock in the war's long aftermath. Really, the book is about depression, yet it perpetually glows with wry or laugh aloud moments. A scene of Coral surfacing into the world just enough to shop for a dress but not quite enough to mention that she herself is the bride is a comic marvel. The icy housekeeper, the shopkeeper, the lovely florist, two bad children, an Italian lover, many others -- however briefly they appear, each character is drawn with the insight, empathy, and care that most writers attempt only with their protagonists.
The novel is magnificently plotted. Again reflecting "An Odd Marriage," the action moves from the countryside to London and from a relationship with a landed lady's son to a landlady's son. With its vaguely dreamlike aura and its accusation of murder, the book's mood is closest to that of Cameron's third novel, Andorra. But Coral Glynn is even better. It takes bigger leaps, goes deeper, and to my mind is more nervewrecking because the well-meaning characters make such terrible choices. The only choice for you to make is when to read it because as one of the year's best books it cannot be missed.