The Seventh Mansion by Maryse Meijer #BookReview
From the author of the story collections Heartbreaker and Rag comes a powerful and propulsive debut novel that examines activism, love, and purpose.
When fifteen-year-old Xie moves from California to a rural Southern town to live with his father he makes just two friends, Jo and Leni, both budding environmental and animal activists. One night, the three friends decide to free captive mink from a local farm. But when Xie is the only one caught his small world gets smaller: kicked out of high school, he becomes increasingly connected with nature, spending his time in the birch woods behind his house, attending extremist activist meetings, and serving as a custodian for what others ignore, abuse, and discard.
Exploring the woods alone one night, Xie discovers the relic of a Catholic saint – the martyred Pancratius – in a nearby church. Regal and dressed in ornate armor, the skeleton captivates him. After weeks of visits, Xie steals the skeleton, hides it in his attic bedroom, and develops a complex and passionate relationship with the bones and spirit of the saint, whom he calls P. As Xie’s relationship deepens with P., so too does his relationship with the woods – private property that will soon be overrun with loggers. As Xie enacts a plan to save his beloved woods, he must also find a way to balance his conflicting – and increasingly extreme – ideals of purity, sacrifice, and responsibility in order to live in this world.
Maryse Meijer’s The Seventh Mansion is a deeply moving and profoundly original debut novel – both an urgent literary call to arms and an unforgettable coming-of-age story about finding love and self-hood in the face of mass extinction and environmental destruction
Title: The Seventh Mansion | Author: Maryse Meijer | Publisher: FSG Originals | Pub. Date: 08 September 2020 | Pages: 192 | ISBN: 9780374298463 | Genre: Horror/Speculative fiction | Language: English | Source: Self-Purchased | Starred Review
The Seventh Mansion Review
“…P.’s hand on your cheek, bridging flesh to bone with a spirit belonging to neither, free, and for a moment you can believe, surrounded by the beloved, that death has never visited any body for long.” – Maryse Meijer, The Seventh Mansion
I am going to start this off by saying I don’t think I have a high enough level of intelligence to do this book justice. I’ll certainly try. The Seventh Mansion is beautifully disturbing and I need to purchase Meijer’s collection, Raw. Told in such a way that is reminiscent of Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, I was a little wary. It takes a certain kind of talent to pull this off and it turns out Meijer has it in spades. Quick note: on Goodreads this is predominately shelved as YA horror and, um, it is NOT. This may involve a 16 year old boy, but that YA shelving really threw me.
Xie is a 16 year old boy just trying to navigate his way through finding himself while dealing with world that doesn’t readily welcome that self. He is vegan, environmentally conscious, and just a sweet kid. We are told this story through his eyes, in his head, and it’s his thoughts an desires that move this story along. Sure, there are events to move the plot along, but the inner journey is the star. The meaning.
I think some readers may be turned off by the writing style, but I urge them to continue on. There are no quotation marks to denote dialogue, nor anything that traditionally indicates that someone else is speaking. No chapters. No section breaks for the most part. This can be off-putting, but I found it entrancing. We are pulled into the life and soul of Xie and there are no breaks when it comes to life.
Bizarre things occur. Xie starts and maintains a sensual relationship with the bones of the Saint he “liberates” from a local church. This could be crass and cause the reader to break that suspension of disbelief. In Meijer’s hands it is poetic. Beautiful. This is all woven in with a conversation about faith and our place in the world. I cannot find the words to convey exactly what it’s like; just read it.
This debut is unique and poignant. It’s a coming of age book unlike any other I’ve read. This is a hard one to pair with other books, but I will recommend it to people who enjoy the work of Samanta Schweblin, Priya Sharma, Georgina Bruce, and others. If you’ve read it or will read it, please be sure to let me know what you think. This book begs for a great conversation.
You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads; however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.