When famed Byronesque poet Hugh de Bonne is discovered dead in his bath one morning, his cousin Robert Highstead, a post-mortem photographer, is charged with a simple task: transport Hugh’s remains for burial in a chapel. This chapel, a stained-glass folly set on the moors, was built by de Bonne sixteen years earlier to house the remains of his beloved wife and muse, Ada. Since then, the chapel has been locked and abandoned, a pilgrimage site for the rabid fans of de Bonne’s last book, The Lost History of Dreams.
However, Ada’s grief-stricken niece refuses to open the glass chapel for Robert unless he agrees to her bargain: before he can lay Hugh to rest, Robert must record Isabelle’s story of Ada and Hugh’s ill-fated marriage over the course of five nights.
As the mystery of Ada and Hugh’s relationship unfolds, so too does the secret behind Robert’s own marriage—including that of his fragile wife, Sida, who has not been the same since a tragic accident three years earlier and the origins of his morbid profession that has him seeing things he shouldn’t...things from beyond the grave.
“All ghost stories are love stories in disguise.”
Soon after the start of this novel is a scene that made me do a double take in shock. I had to read it again to confirm – oh, yes, that is indeed what I had just read, which colored everything that came before and colors everything that comes after.
Death is all over this book. Robert photographs dead bodies for remembrances by their loved ones. And he is commissioned by his brother to transport his cousin’s corpse to his resting place. Love and death seem inextricable here, as though mourning is the fullest expression of love – not what we do in life. There are haunting expressions of grief – such as the glass cathedral-like crypt in the middle of the woods – beautiful, untouched and, as it turns out, hiding a tale of thwarted love.
The Lost History of Dreams mostly follows the gothic tradition faithfully with some modern touches here and there. The prolonged tale telling over five nights is a familiar framework that had me wondering about the the detailed backstory, especially with a corpse decomposing in the stables.