Palace of the Drowned

Off-season Venice, with its cooler weather and lack of tourists, becomes a refuge for London novelist Frances "Frankie" Croy, as Christine Mangan (Tangerine) develops Palace of the Drowned into a perceptive character study. Mangan's accomplished second novel spins on low-boil psychological underpinnings, with a threat of violence; Palace of the Drowned shrewdly echoes Patricia Highsmith, Gaslight and All About Eve. When a fatality does occur late in the story, it's a surprise but not unexpected.

Frankie, whose fame peaked about 20 years before, with the success of her first book, has fled to Venice to escape fallout from a drunken public meltdown at a London publishing gala, during which she attacked a critic who'd savaged her latest novel. This being the pre-social media world of 1966, Frankie believes she can hide from the press at her friend Jack's vacant palazzo. Frankie, who revels in being alone, has barely arrived when she's approached by Gilly Larson, a young admirer who claims they have met before. The complicated dynamic between the two women, based on lies, secrets and jealousy, propels the story. Venice emerges as a strong character, with Mangan skillfully exploring the city's myriad facets, culminating in the worst flood in the city's history, which occurred in November 1966.

With Venice's maze of streets, "sulphuric tang" and "impermanence" reflecting Frankie's fragile mental state, Palace of the Drowned also works well as a sophisticated story about friendship, the creative process and loving the unlovable. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

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