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Natural Flights of the Human Mind
by Clare Morrall

Overview - Peter Straker lives in a converted lighthouse on the Devon coast with a fine view of the sea, two cats, and no neighbors. That's just the way he likes it. He speaks to no one except in his dreams, where he converses with some of the seventy-eight people he believes he killed nearly a quarter-century earlier -- though he can't quite remember how it happened.  Read more...

 
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More About Natural Flights of the Human Mind by Clare Morrall
 
 
 
Overview
Peter Straker lives in a converted lighthouse on the Devon coast with a fine view of the sea, two cats, and no neighbors. That's just the way he likes it. He speaks to no one except in his dreams, where he converses with some of the seventy-eight people he believes he killed nearly a quarter-century earlier -- though he can't quite remember how it happened. But Straker's carefully preserved solitude is about to be invaded by Imogen Doody, a prickly and unapproachable school caretaker with a painful history herself. Against his will -- and hers -- Straker soon finds himself helping Imogen repair the run-down cottage she's inherited. There are forces gathering, however, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of Straker's crime approaches, and they're intent upon disturbing his precarious peace.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780060843366
  • ISBN-10: 0060843365
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Publish Date: June 2006
  • Page Count: 390

Series: P.S.

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Books > Fiction > General

 
BookPage Reviews

The light at the end of the tunnel

Starting at least as long ago as the Battle of Agincourt, the English have always thrived on hopeless situations. What's so astonishing about this trait to us Yanks is that under the very worst circumstances, Britons surpass their famous stiff upper lip, their "mustn't grumble" attitude, and achieve that implausible state of grace called laughter.

Such transcendence should be impossible for Peter Straker, the guilt-wracked hermit in English author Clare Morrall's second novel, Natural Flights of the Human Mind. Straker is responsible for the deaths of 78 persons, whose names and faces have haunted him day and night for the 24 years since the catastrophe. As the details of what happened rise piece by piece out of the narrative, Straker's genuine culpability comes into focus.

Imogen Doody is, if anything, a more vexed soul than Straker, for she lives in an emotional void, with no tangible peg on which to hang her unhappiness. A dead sister, a missing husband, a dying mother and a lousy job conspire to make Doody one of those irrepressibly unpleasant characters which English fiction has always excelled at presenting.

Like Fielding and Trollope, George Eliot and Galsworthy, Morrall knows that the only way to effect a change in such unpromising raw materials is through a direct chemical reaction between them. Doody and Straker meet—collide is more like it—and somehow, miraculously, at this very first encounter, out of the awful bitterness of those two human wells bubbles up laughter and odd companionability.

The word "flights" of the novel's title has much to do with the story itself. The lure of an airplane can be fatal to human beings—but no more so than our efforts to navigate life here on the ground. The hopelessness of Doody and (especially) Straker before they meet is not "redeemed" by their meeting. The bleak and darkly perfect image of the 78 who died cannot be erased; but the brilliantly rough sketch of two who live—who, through each other, are learning how to live—finds its rightful, hopeful place alongside.

Michael Alec Rose is a professor of music at Vanderbilt University.

 
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