A story of love and ghosts

2008-10-02 08:05

IN Second Glance, Jodie Picoult has crafted a tale that is part love story, part mystery and part ghost story, but which is also the vehicle for some sharp social commentary.

Her search for a fictional ghost for her novel led her to the Abenaki Indians in Vermont where she came across an article on a eugenics project undertaken in that state in the twenties and thirties. It was a programme that set out to rid Vermont of “degenerates” who were supposedly a drain on the economy due to repeated stints in poorhouses, mental institutions and prisons. Often these were Abenaki Indians and French Canadians. A law was passed that supported voluntary sterilisation of these individuals.

However, the “voluntary” was often not a matter of free will and it is to Vermont's ongoing shame that the Nazis credited this eugenics programme with laying the groundwork for their own plans for racial hygiene.

In Second Glance Picoult moves from the eugenics project to an examination of today's debate over mapping the human genome and cloning, and gene replacement therapy.

However, the book is anything but a dry scientific treatise. It is a moving story of love lost and found, involving endearingly quirky characters as well as a fascinating forensic investigation into an unsolved, decades-old murder.

Ross Wakeman is a ghost hunter who has never seen a ghost. Not that it worries him - all he's really searching for is something to end the pain of losing his fiancée in a car crash eight years ago.

When a developer targets an ancient Native American burial ground for a shopping mall, strange things start happening in the town of Comtosook, Vermont that have the residents talking of supernatural forces at work. Ross is called in to search the site for signs of the paranormal and meets the mysterious Lia, who is also searching for something across the boundaries of time.

When his snooping around reveals that all is not as it seems, his investigation expands and his sister, a nephew with XP (xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic disease that made him extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light), a part-Abenaki detective and a genetics researcher all become involved.

The threads eventually all come together and the end result, for those who are open to the possibility of communication beyond the grave, is a really satisfying read.

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