The Folly of Expectations: Reading Salema Nazzal’s ‘The Folly Under the Lake’
An article I came across about a secret ballroom built in the 19th century beneath a lake piqued my curiosity and led me to search out more information and photographs about this incredibly intriguing hidden marvel. The history of Whitaker Wright, his property at Lea Park where the underwater ballroom is located, his shady business deals and eventual suicide when his deception was uncovered seems ripe to transform into any number of plotlines and stories.
While gathering information for my own story (one that leans more towards Lovecraft than Agatha Christie), I found the Facebook page for “The Folly Under the Lake”. It hadn’t been released yet and I kind of dismissed it, but as I kept writing and tinkering and going back to search for new information, it kept popping up until finally I bought it.
To be honest, I underestimated “The Folly Under the Lake”. I didn’t expect to enjoy it and maybe I didn’t want to, so at first, I didn’t.
Initially, I was put off by being thrust into the story through two characters who seemed set up to be a secondary, annoying couple you pity but deep down can’t stand. From there, too many characters were introduced too quickly where I got to the point I didn’t care who was talking anymore and had no interest in trying to keep them apart.
But I kept reading and they kept talking. And talking. And there was a lot of dialogue. But then I told myself to stop trying to hate the book, to stop trying to look for what was wrong. I would read a couple chapters and put it down, read a couple more the next night, and during the fourth day, when I was six or seven chapters in, I found myself excited for later when I would get to pick it up and read some more.
While this was not a great book, it nevertheless had me hooked.
Whether it was my interest in the underwater ballroom itself or curiosity over how Walter would be killed, and whether I was right about who did it (I wasn’t), I was excited to keep reading it, pacing myself as I did to tease the story out.
Could “The Folly Under the Lake” have benefited from deeper characterization and more thorough descriptions to build up of this incredible setting? Definitely. The book synopsis says the story is set in the 1930s, but I didn’t feel there was anything in the text itself to establish that. Given that the historical basis for the setting and characters is rooted at the turn of the 20th century, with Whitaker Wright committing suicide in 1904, my knowledge of the background and the claims from the synopsis were always at odds and that left me with a feeling of inconsistency that more attention to setting by the author could have avoided.
But ultimately, it was a fun read and I enjoyed more than I expected I would. The book did exactly as it needed to keep the reader engaged and moving forward through this little murder mystery, offering up valid suspects in each of the characters that kept you excited to read on and solve the crime.
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