An all girls’ school. A Latin Class. A troubled magistra with a shady alumna past. Students writing Latin phrases on their arms and razor-slicing their wrists open. Stolen Diaries. Secret Pregnancies. Taboo Love. Suicide on ice, water and dorm rooms. Academic Pressures. Friendships gone wrong. Ghost lakes and tragic folklore. History Repeating itself.
Relax, I’m not spoiling the entire book yet. If you’re a fan of mysteries with gothic touches, and thought the themes I just listed above sounded extremely catchy, I’m pretty sure you’ll find lots to love in Carol Goodman’s Lake of Dead Languages—an almost mythological-esque thriller exploring the edges of adolescent woes and high-school horrors, richly glazed with controversial socio-feministic truths. Just a caveat though: plot became sort of predictable half-way through. Or maybe it’s my inner crankypants again. Goodman makes up for it though by ironing the creases out of her narrative with wonderfully, tragically wounded heroines and yes, even villains, too. Like standing on a glass floor of ice, there’s plenty amount of chills, fragility, nostalgia and clarity in these pages that will oh-so-easily propel you deeper towards its secrets and mysteries.
This is Heart Lake School for Girls. Come Hither.
I’ve always been vocal about my love of layers. This novel has gazillions of it, and yes, most of it were effectively and intricately plotted within an interchanging series of present-day musings and flashbacks. The focal point is the story’s heroine and narrator, Jane Hudson, an alumna who returns to Heart Lake to teach Latin to a class of girls with whom she sees and identifies similarities to herself and her best friends during their time. It’s a mirror of events and identities, tugging at each other; Repetitions almost blending as one, as if staged by someone who premeditatedly wants to torture her. And the sameness of the tragedies evokes a certain paranoia on Jane—who knew all too well the patterns and the first-hand details of what happened in the past.
In it there’s a central, recurring concept of salvaging wrong decisions made and finding truth in all the deceit and confusion blurred frozen by time. I like how bits and pieces of Jane’ high school diary became a device in giving glimpses of their past, particularly on the tragedies whose only remaining witness alive was her. Dun Dun Dun Dun.
It’s a page-turner, but I thought some of the major revelations weren’t as shriek-worthy as I wanted it to be, having seen a twist a couple of pages before it gets affirmed. Okay, so maybe I’m just too engrossed wanting to find out who’s the culprit behind everything that I immediately guessed who it was, but still. I love layers, but I’m very particular about execution too. It’s a little pointless dragging a time-bomb longer than it’s supposed to be, just saying.
Nevertheless, this book has a lot of good points that shouldn’t be overlooked. In all fairness, the themes incorporated here were all relatively heavy for a coming-of-age story and I thought it honestly captured all the pain and tragedies of high-school’s darker side. I especially adore how everyone in the class gets their own Latin Name according to preferences to ditch their boring, generic names. And since it was a Latin Class, I was able to pick up a couple of Latin words and phrases, Cor Te Reducit being my favourite. It means: The heart leads you back.
And like Heart Lake itself, the story delves deeper and murkier as you read on. Heart: it gets to the core of what happened to Jane to make sense of what’s haunting her in the present. It’s somewhat became the conflict with which she will come to peace with her guilt-imbued self. And secondly, Lake: because as you swim further you say farewell to the shores of safety too, for you to put your own bravery to test towards profound depths your feet won’t touch.
All in all, the Lake of Dead Languages has been a beautiful albeit scary memoir; It’s piercing and pensive in ways that will ironically make you miss the one phase of your life you’re grateful you’re done with—High School.
This book will make you remember how it’s not always sunlit and cheery, but will also tell you, as if in whisper: The heart will always, lead you back.