book review: The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith



by Gregory Blake Smith
2018, Viking


On the whole I was so impressed by The Maze at Windermere that I can’t help but to forgive the moments where it failed to captivate me. Gregory Blake Smith has created something that’s an absolute masterclass of storytelling – he weaves together seemingly unrelated plotlines (all centered in Newport Rhode Island) from 2011, 1896, 1863, 1778 and 1692 in ways both subtle and forthright, and the precision with which he manages this is feat is undeniable.

But the stories themselves from each timeline vary in the level of engagement they offer. To my surprise, I fell head over heels in love with the 2011 plot, which follows the strange friendship between a nearly retired tennis pro, Sandy, and an heiress with cerebral palsy. This unconventional socialite, Alice, has to be one of the most vivid characters I have ever read; I couldn’t get her out of my head when I was reading this book and I still can’t now that I’ve finished. I loved everything about their odd dynamic and tumultuous, melodramatic, tragic relationship. This motivations of a secondary character in this storyline also provides the book with one of its greatest sources of intrigue which goes on to feed into a positively spectacular ambiguous ending that I can’t talk about without spoiling. But, it was perfection.

Unfortunately, all of the past timelines paled in comparison. 1896 follows a gay man who’s attempting to marry into high society; 1863 follows a fictionalization of Henry James, an overt nod to the thematic parallels to Daisy Miller that litter the different narratives; 1778 follows a British officer during the American Revolution (I found him the most tiresome); and 1692 follows a newly orphaned Quaker girl. Each of these narratives had moments of searing brilliance, but at the same time, none of them was able to offer the same emotional draw as the present-day storyline.

That said, the structure of this book is nothing short of a delight for readers who enjoy riddles and puzzles and similar literary exercises. I’m almost definitely going to want to re-read this at some point after I’ve read Daisy Miller, because I feel like I’ve only barely scratched the surface.

12 thoughts on “book review: The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

  1. This is one of the ToB longlisters that caught my eye, and I’m glad to see you enjoyed it! The less-captivating historical narratives sound a bit dull, but it seems like there must be enough else going on to combat that. Your riddles and puzzles note definitely piques my attention. It’s good to know it would be handy to read Daisy Miller first, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are SO many allusions to Daisy Miller throughout, and for some of them Gregory Blake Smith kind of holds your hand and explains what he’s doing, but I get the impression that a ton of the allusions went over my head. I had a glance at Daisy Miller in a bookstore the other day and it appears to be pretty short, so I do think I’ll pick it up this year. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts if/when you read The Maze!

      Liked by 1 person

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