It’s kind of a bold title for a book, don’t you think? If you call your novel Temples of Delight, you are either being harshly sardonic or you’d better deliver. Fortunately with Barbara Trapido doing the writing, delight is indeed forthcoming. Along with some confusion, I have to admit.
As we know, the border between the literal and the fantastic isn’t a very comfy place for me. The same is true of earnest, hardworking young Alice Pilling, who when we meet her is a third form student in a mediocre girls’ school. Into the school, and Alice’s life, erupts Jem McCrail, a brilliant and iconoclastic life force, even if she is only thirteen. Trapido lays out her premise in the first sentence: “Jem was a joyful mystery to Alice.” And even though Jem disappears from school after a few months, her influence shapes Alice’s response to life for years thereafter. I can only give you the barest bones of the plot because it’s quite rambunctious, for a story about a clever girl’s coming of age. There are deaths and births, seductions and betrayals, three suitors for Alice… oh, golly. Do I see an allegory appearing? Does it mean something that Alice’s first boyfriend is named Roland? Or that Mozart’s The Magic Flute keeps shuffling in and out of the narrative? Of course it does.
And what, exactly, is Trapido driving at, with an infant named Pamina and a devilish-looking love interest named Angeletti, and nuns everywhere? I didn’t even try to sort it all out. For me, Trapido’s strong suit is charm, and Temples of Delight provided several hours of delicious reading.