- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Edition edition (June 13, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060843365
- ISBN-13: 978-0060843366
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,680,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Natural Flights of the Human Mind: A Novel Paperback – June 13, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Grappling with larger-than-life issues of guilt, redemption and forgiveness, Morrall showcases the kind of quirky characters and improbable plotting that made her debut, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, a finalist for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize. Is a 50-something hermit, Peter Straker, responsible for the deaths of 78 people a quarter-century ago, when he crashed his small plane into a moving passenger train? The coroner ruled the crash an accident, but the details are hazy in Peter's memory, part of his former life as a drunken playboy. Eaten by guilt, Peter doesn't speak except to the 78 victims, who now live in his head: "There isn't room in his mind for anyone else." For two years, he has corresponded with the passengers' families under false pretenses, fueling his own guilt and inciting the families to seek him out for revenge. When morose, embittered Imogen Doody, a 40-ish school caretaker and writer, inherits a dilapidated cottage near the decommissioned lighthouse where Peter lives, Peter begins a tentative engagement with the world of the living, pursuing an unlikely relationship with her. Morrall is a deft guide through the landscape of grief, but her artistic prose can distance readers from her characters.
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Booker Prize finalist Clare Morrall invites the reader to the Devon coast and into the company of Peter Straker, living in a former working lighthouse, and Imogen Doody, a school caretaker living in a run-down cottage she has inherited in a nearby village. Both Straker and Doody are misfits in their own right. Haunted by their respective pasts and each hiding something, both struggle to come to terms with the tragic events that changed their lives some 24 years ago. Did Straker really kill 78 people? And what is it about seeing a biplane take to the air? Did he once have a pilot's license? Morrall places the reader alone with Straker and Doody, alone with the wind and the sea. Guilt, death, and the impact of premature death on families and friends are at the core of this novel. Straker and Doody's relationship is initially uncomplicated; then it all changes. Readers will remember them painting in silence, the tension of their conversations as it begins to dissipate, and the increasing ease of their presence. Sarah Watstein
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Clare Morrall's sophomore effort, following ASTONISHING SPLASHES OF COLOUR (a Booker Prize finalist) centers on Peter and Imogen as they navigate a tenuous and emotional relationship that makes each deal with their tragic past and their hopes for the future.
Imogen, or "Doody," is a school caretaker, an angry woman with no friends and a strained relationship with her family. She discovers she has inherited a cottage on the Devon coast from a godfather she never knew. The cottage is a dream come true, a place to be alone with her thoughts and perhaps even finish the novel she half-heartedly has been working on. But the cottage is also a disaster, abandoned and decrepit, and she has neither the money nor the know-how to fix it up. It is her activity in the cottage that attracts Peter, and he talks with his first living person in years when he meets Doody. Her anger flashes again and again and he retreats to his lighthouse again and again, but they eventually come to something of a truce and begin to work on the cottage together.
Over time they open up to each other and discover that both were emotionally scarred and damaged 25 years ago --- Peter with the train wreck and Doody when her husband abandoned her never to be heard from again. Could the events be related? And why does the discovery that Doody has also inherited a small plane make Peter so upset? What happened to Doody's husband, and what happened when Peter last flew a plane almost 25 years ago?
Although Morrall's book is not a mystery, these questions and others haunt the narrative as they do the characters.
NATURAL FLIGHTS OF THE HUMAN MIND is a beautiful, thoughtful and thoroughly successful novel. Morrall's characters seem and act real; while the foundational events are quite extraordinary, Peter and Doody are just normal people who are lonely and guilty and more than a little afraid of relationships and the future.
Morrall's prose is lovely and quite readable. This is serious stuff without being heavy, and character-driven without being dull. And there is resolution without easy answers or clichés. This is also a novel that is creative in its description and use of setting. The lighthouse seems to be crumbling along with the shore as Peter explores the truth of his responsibility and the world at large intrudes upon his solitude. Doody must clear away the years of misuse to find the beauty and functional space in the cottage.
Guilt, grief, family, forgiveness, tragic pasts, drama, an unforgettable setting and uniquely drawn characters --- this novel has it all.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
The author has several seemingly disparate things going on and handles them very cleverly. That's all I'll say except that you should read it!