My Rating: 4 stars
I read and enjoyed Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Language several years ago and loved it, so I wanted to read more of her books. Arcadia Falls has a lot in common with The Lake of Dead Language; it features a boarding school, a woman with a past connected to the school starting to teach there, a student body obsessed with pagan rituals, dark secrets, and mysterious deaths. Goodman does seem to have a formula, but that’s why I wanted to read both of these books, so I wouldn’t call it a bad thing. The big draw of Arcadia Falls for me as the focus on fairy tales. The main character, Meg Rosenthal, comes to the school to teach folklore and literature. The founders of the school, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, are best known for their illustrated fairy tales, which Meg is writing her PhD thesis on. The story of The Changeling Girl was absolutely my favorite part of this book, and I wish the book actually existed. Goodman’s descriptions of the illustrations are dark and beautiful, and I want it!
Goodman absolutely aces creating the a Gothic and eerily beautiful atmosphere in this book. Her descriptions are lovely and truly create an image for the reader. The descriptions are especially striking, particularly ones of the beech tree on the campus. And the images of girls in white dresses running through apple orchards and woods will certainly stick with me. I listened to this on audiobook, and I think that added a lot to the experience. It was such a pleasure to hear these beautiful descriptions read out loud. And the narrator does a great job capturing the voice of each individual character.
The book is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of representation. I was pleasantly surprised to find multiple romantic relationships between women portrayed here because the summary didn’t mention anything about it. Who doesn’t love some surprise women loving women? The main relationship between Vera and Lily is seeped in drama and tragedy, but I think Goodman does a great job crafting the relationship and making it feel real. There are two minor female characters depicted in a positive and loving relationship, which was refreshing to see. They adopt a child together and live happily ever after in a pottery studio. The representation of mental illness wasn’t as great. It does fall into the trap of mentally ill people being violent, crazy, and/or just terrible people. I didn’t think about it while reading the book, but looking back after, it’s stereotypical and I ultimately feel it was just used as an easy out to explain character motivations.
Goodman certainly kept me guessing with the plot. There are so many twists and turns in this book! There were a few that I figured out, but others caught me off guard. But Goodman does hint at them all throughout; I just didn’t put everything together. However, I did feel that some of the plot twists ended up being a little…too much. This was especially the case right at the end. There are so many coincidences that it felt like a Dickens novel, and I couldn’t quite get behind some of it.
Overall, Arcadia Falls is a beautifully written and engaging mystery. It’s a little far-fetched and certainly not without it’s flaws, but I had a lot of fun with it.