(Reviewed by Guy Savage MAR 22, 2009)
“I had dropped out of college, after all, to run away with a woman I barely knew and done dangerous things—chemical, sexual, criminal—with her for which I’d had no previous desire or inclination. But in the years before I met Justine, I had failed to comprehend (or rather had forgotten) the power of imagining. I suppose that was her great gift to me. I was coming to recognize the malleability of reality itself. This story is in some part, I suppose, about my renaissance.”
Last year I read Craig Holden’s complex novel The Narcissist’s Daughter, and that’s when I became a fan. Now after finishing Matala, it’s clear that this author’s tales are never straightforward, never predictable and full of people you’d rather not meet outside of the pages of a book.
Matala begins in Rome with Darcy, a spoiled, wealthy nineteen-year-old who’s unleashed on a six-week tour of Europe. The trip is supposed to be a reward for Darcy’s birthday and high school graduation. Bored to tears, Darcy slips away from her roommate and her staid tour guide to wander the streets of Rome alone. As she crosses a bridge, she sees a tattily dressed young man she swears she vaguely knew in high school back in Ohio. After introducing herself, Darcy and the man, named Will, spend a few hours together. Darcy agrees to meet Will again later that evening.
That evening, Will introduces Darcy to “his mother,” Justine, a thirty-nine-year old British woman. Will and Justine make sure that Darcy gets drunk, and then they drug her, stealing her cash. When Darcy wakes up the next morning, she has missed her train to Florence, and she is alone with Will and Justine. Will and Justine offer to take Darcy to Florence to join her group, but as penniless drifters, they need her to pay their way. Darcy agrees….
Craig Holden’s psychological thriller is sure to please fans of his previous novels. The Narcissist’s Daughter explores twisted relationships between some rather nasty characters, and similarly in Matala no one is particularly likeable and no one is what they seem. Will and Justine’s murky relationship is complicated by hardship and dominance long before Darcy comes along, but the introduction of this spoilt nineteen-year-old into the relationship ignites strange passions. Justine sees Darcy as a means to an end, but Will finds himself attracted to Darcy. While it’s clear that Will and Justine are less-than-honest and have bad intentions, what about Darcy? Is she simply as spoiled as she seems or is there more to her under the surface of her rich girl persona?
This mismatched trio travel across Europe, and there’s a dangerous subtle game afoot in which Will is a tool for the two predatory females. A love triangle emerges as the manipulative relationship between the three characters grows. Just who these people are and what they want becomes horribly clear by the journey’s end. Holden once again creates a fascinating world full of moral ambiguities--a world in which sex is a means of gaining control, and relationships are fraught with elaborate games. One of the striking things about the novel is that its three main characters create an almost Henry Jamesian feel--with Darcy as the seemingly naïve wealthy American way out of her depth in Europe but hunted by predatory fortune seekers. Holden takes this iconic Jamesian approach to Matala but inverts it, and by using multiple narrators, creates an unexpected, explosive conclusion.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The River Sorrow (1994)
- The Last Sanctuary (1996)
- Four Corners of Night (1999)
- The Jazz Bird (2002)
- The Narcissist's Daughter (2005)
- Matala (2007)
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- Official website for Craig Holden
- MostlyFiction.com interview with Craig Holden (2009)
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Jazz Bird
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Narcissist's Daughter
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About the Author:
Craig Holden grew up in Toledo, Ohio and received a B.A. in Psychology/Biology/Philosophy from the University of Toledo. In 1984, he moved to Missoula, Montana to earn his MFA Creative Writing from the University of Missoula. After one unsuccessful attempt, he moved to New York City and begin a publishing career in 1991. When his first novel, The River Sorrow and one unwritten novel were sold, he moved back to the Midwest, to Michigan, to be near his parents and sister.
He has taught at the Universities of Michigan and Toledo, and is currently the visiting writer at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.