Only Charlotte by Rosemary Poole-Carter: A Review

I’ve just finished a reading of this fine novel.  I view it as one of the most intriguing novels I’ve read, and one that easily can be classified as Southern Gothic.  If the reader is unfamiliar with that genre, here are the characteristics I’ve found in my reading, research, and study: 

1. Though in some ways it may be built upon the Gothic tradition, Southern Gothic is a distinctly American genre.

2. Characters often are deeply flawed, damaged, disturbing, disturbed, deranged, delusional or diseased mentally, dangerous; and/or deformed in some way. A deep, inner life is usually lacking, and they may be broken in body or soul.

3. Plots are built around or at least using the macabre, bizarre, the unusual, the grotesque–things that make us cringe.

4. The humor is a dark humor. Sometimes a mocking humor that attacks our clichés and habits of life.

5. Southern Gothic explores social issues and reveals aspects of Southern culture.

 The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature says this about Southern Gothic: Southern Gothic is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day. Characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation.

Only Charlottehas these characteristics.  Here are my observations generally about this novel:

1. This novel, like the author’s other novels, are all set in the post-Civil War South. She writes with honesty, avoiding the stereotypes commonly used to portray the South. There’s no effort in her writing to please the politically correct police. She captures a very real historical world and leads the reader into it, where we discover the idioms, the secrets, customs, events, and the arcane mysteries of the Old South.  Through her descriptions of the plants and flowers and places, I felt I entered the gardens, the streets of New Orleans, and the cemeteries and as he ministered to people, I understood better the challenges facing Gilbert, Lenore’s brother and physician.

2. Poole’s diction (word choice)  is amazing and used skillfully. I think this is a book that should have a reader’s guide with words and phrases listed and defined that may be new to the reader. 

3. Conflict and suspense are abundant and unrelenting that should keep the reader turning pages to the very end of the 446 page novel, indicating that we are reading a very skilled novelist. As revealed by the opening epigraph, the novel’s structure and plot are influenced by Shakespeare’sThe Winter’s Tale.  The novel’s opening line, “Draw the shadows, and the shapes will appear” is a brilliant opening and this line is repeated through the story. This is a mystery and is so well constructed that though the reader will speculate what will happen next, but the author will continue lead to surprising twists and complications. 

4. The author uses narrative to relate her tale, through the voice of Lenore. Using narrative this skillfully is a difficult task for any novelist to accomplish, but Poole uses it well and manages to both “show and tell” in a way that holds our interest and attention. 

5. This is a novel that reveals the struggles attending attraction and love. Gilbert falls for Charlotte and the reader is cheering for them to be together. For him, there is only Charlotte. The novel reveals how jealousy, the desire to exercise power and control over another, the pain of betrayal, and the cost of love can be painfully real. 

Here is the MLA entry for a Works Cited:

Poole-Carter, Rosemary. Only Charlotte. Top Publications Ltd. Plano, Texas, 2018.