Everlasting Lane, by Andrew Lovett, is being marketed as a “timeless coming-of-age tale as charming and haunting as the movie Stand by Me.” It promises something dark underneath the surface, told from a child’s point of view, and it takes place in England, all very compelling reasons to read this novel, at least in my opinion. Melville House is one of my favorite publishers, and this novel seemed different from some of their other books, which intrigued me as well.
Well, I got more than I bargained for.
Everlasting Lane is more like I Am the Cheese morphing into We Were Liars.
Peter Lambert is a nine-year (or is he ten?) boy whose life changes in the 1970s when his father dies, and his mother moves them to a village called Amberley. However, as soon as they arrive, Peter feels like he’s been there before. His mother confirms that they used to live in the very same house that they have now moved to. As the new kid at a small village school, Peter endures being treated like an outcast. He makes a couple of friends, Anna-Marie Liddell and Tommie Winslow, who are outcasts too, and together they explore the countryside. Except for the bullying they endure at school, this all sounds very bucolic. However, some of the people and situations that they encounter are completely horrifying. There is a chilling scene with a local called Mr. Merridew and a dog called ‘The Beast.’ Their teachers, Mr. Gale and Mrs. Carpenter, would be arrested if they taught in the schools today. Peter’s mother is acting strangely, and a psychiatrist called Dr. Todd has appeared in their lives. There appears to be a hidden room in Peter’s house, because the window is visible from the outside, but he cannot get in from the inside. Peter gradually realizes that there is a secret that his mother is keeping from him.
So how much can I say without giving anything away?
Peter, and Anna-Maria, and Tommie eventually discover what the secret is, but this is not as straightforward as it sounds. Oh, I do love unreliable narrators! They make you go back and re-read everything because all the assumptions that you have been blithely making turn out to be questionable. It’s kind of like real life: decisions based on unspoken assumptions often turn out to be wrong.
Alice in Wonderland is referenced many times, with the underlying theme of being unable to distinguish reality from unreality. Butterflies are another recurring theme, but the symbolism is variable and open to interpretation: transformation, rebirth, new beginnings, souls of the dead, souls of the dead in Purgatory. Picking one or another here is difficult because I am not sure what is real or what is not real in Everlasting Lane.
Is Peter a traumatized child or is he a psychopath? Has he buried his trauma by making up stories or has he made up stories to bury the truth? Do we all have the capacity to develop into psychopaths at a certain crucial point in our lives? Is there some sort of fork in our personal road, as there is in the Everlasting Lane of the title, where we turn to the dark or to the light?
(I like the word “everlasting”, because I like compound words (which are kind of like word alchemy), and because if you take the opposite of each part of this word, you get the word “neverending”. Combining two opposites means the same thing, like a double negative in math! How cool is that? Keeping the “ing” endings, I made a small flowchart of the combinations:
“everlasting” –>”everending”–>”neverlasting”–>”neverending”. (Do not drop the “ing”s, as that completely changes the meanings.) The two middle words mean essentially the same thing, too, but not the same thing as the first and last words. Why do I find this stuff fascinating?)
I still have not completely decided what happens, or at least, who is telling the truth. If this novel is based, in part, on the author’s life: let’s hope it’s the bucolic English countryside part…
~ Lysbeth Abrams