Cover Image: Palace of the Drowned

Palace of the Drowned

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Member Reviews

This is a perfect, gothic read. It's a little like a feminist take on The Talented Mister Ripley.
Mangan is an incredible author, ratcheting up the tension line by line. Told in sparse prose that still brings to life the damp secrets of Venice when the tourists aren't watching and the small cast of characters perform brilliantly.

I'm buying Tangerine next.
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Thank you to Netgalley, Little, Brown Book UK and Christine Mangan for this e-copy in return for my honest review. Stunningly written, this book brought the sights and smells of Venice so alive that I felt like I was walking across the Bridge of Sighs with Frankie and Gilly. It's a dark and brooding novel that I read with a sense of foreboding throughout. From the opening chapters I knew I would love this book, so I've since purchased Tangerine and I can't wait to get stuck in. Christine has definitely gained a new fan.
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I really enjoyed the way Christine Mangan brought the smells and sights of North Africa alive in her first novel Tangerine. And though I thought the book was somewhat let down by some contrived plotting, I did appreciate the way she developed interesting and believable characters. So what could she do with her second book, set largely in my favourite city of them all, Venice? I couldn’t wait to find out.

France Croy (Frankie) grew up in London. During WWII, a war in which she lost her two brothers, she was an air raid warden and shortly before the end of the war both of her parents were killed in a car accident. It was a cruel war indeed for Frankie. It’s now 1966 and she is an independent woman, a writer, who still lives in The Smoke. Her first novel was well received and earned her a good book deal but her subsequent books weren’t so successful and now she has used up the goodwill of her publisher to the extent that all she has left is the promise of ‘a look’ at her next book. 

Following a particularly critical review of her most recent novel, it seems that a nasty incident occurred at the Savoy Hotel. Details are initially sketchy, but the result is that after a short stay in a clinic she’s decided to take up an offer from a rich friend to spend some time at a large vacant palazzo in Venice. It’s out of season and the city feels dank and unwelcoming, but an extended break in another country might just keep her out of the limelight long enough to allow the noise back home to die down. It’s hardly relaxing though as in Frankie’s mind there is always the knowledge that she needs to provide a draft of her next book, the pivotal deliverable if she is to have an extended career as a novelist.

Pretty soon the city seems to be weaving its magic on Frankie, who has settled into a lonely but peaceful existence and has even began to think about starting to write again. Then on one of her frequent forays out amongst the canals and bridges she meets a young woman, named Gilly, who claims to have met Frankie once before. And although she can’t recall the meeting Frankie rather reluctantly agrees to meet up over a cup of coffee in a few days. So starts a strange and slightly uncomfortable relationship between the reclusive writer and this eager, confident interloper.

Once again, Mangan does a brilliant job of bringing the setting alive and also the relationship between this pair, which starts to slowly develop over the coming weeks. A small cast of support characters is introduced and the tension is maintained on a slow simmer as minor mysteries are discovered and remain unresolved and as Frankie’s mental health seems to hover on the brink. But then something happens and everything changes. It’s a shock and everything is thrown into the air.

How the story plays out from this point is really the real strength of the book for me. I kept thinking that I knew where it was going, only to be thrown off track by an unexpected turn of events. At the centre, Frankie’s future as a writer and the stability of her mental health remain open questions, but in a tense and gripping final third of the book unresolved elements are dealt with and a dramatic conclusion is reached. It is, I have to say, all very well done.

This is a step up from the author’s first book: the strengths of Tangerine are still evident here but the whole thing is more cohesive, more believable. Definitely one not to miss for lovers of dark literary thrillers.
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Novelist Frankie is staying in her heiress friend’s palazzo in Venice after an ‘incident at the Savoy’ (a set-up which is surely an homage to Anita Brookner’s sublime Hotel du Lac). She is used to her own company and free from unwanted attention there, so initially resists being befriended by young Gilly who might not be telling the whole truth but turns out to be engaging company.
An avid Venetophile, I’m drawn to novels set in Venice but it does make me an exacting customer. By and large, the descriptions of life in the city ring true (it’s a well-worn trope that the canals stink, and they may well have done in 1966, but it’s not something I have experienced) but a few inaccuracies niggled. A traghetto would not ‘make its way down the canal’ and have different stops (that would be a vaporetto) but acts as a ferry across the Grand Canal. And who could have lived in Venice for weeks and need directions to Florian’s café, slap bang as it is in St Mark’s Square?
That’s enough moaning. I found the characters interesting and enjoyed the story; at no point did it seem too obvious or fantastic. Frankie may have had one genuine mental health crisis but her friends and publisher readily dismiss what she says; it’s all too easy for them – and Frankie herself – to assume she is imagining things. Christine Mangan gives us a glimpse of how in the 1960s a woman might be vulnerable to being patronised and even gaslit. The second half of the book in particular is fast-paced; Frankie is caught in a lie and before she knows it finds it nigh on impossible to stop the situation running out of control.
I can’t quite give four stars but three seems mean – consider this 3.5.
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I loved Christine Mangan's first book, Tangerine, so was thrilled to be approved for Palace of the Drowned. In my opinion, it is even better. 

Set at the time of the floods which devastated Venice in 1966, Frankie is a writer who has escaped London to stay alone at her friend's dilapidated palazzo. Her mental state makes her behaviour unpredictable. It is one such occasion, after the publication of a scathing anonymous review of her latest novel, that has led her to flee London, ostensibly to write, but in reality to lick her wounds as she struggles to find out who was responsible for the review.

Frankie meets a younger woman, Gilly who professes to have met Frankie before although Frankie has no recollection of her. Both women are realistically portrayed as women of their time, Frankie who lived through the Second World War, and Gilly, who encompasses the youth of the 60s. But who is the driving force in this unusual relationship, and why does Gilly enforce herself on Frankie who prefers to remain in isolation, at least until the floods overwhelm the city.

If you've never been to Venice, or if you want to recall a visit, Palace of the Drowned brings it to life, wrapped in a dark Gothic cloak much as Miss Garnet's Angel, The City of Fallen Angels, and Death in Venice did. I loved this book and highly recommend it. Many thanks to NetGalley and Little Brown for the opportunity to read and review this book. A definite 5* from me.
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This is an atmospheric Gothic suspense story, set in Venice in the 60s. Frances is a writer, who's staying at her friend's Palazzo in Venice , to overcome her writer's block. The book then proceeds to take you through her stay, with flashbacks to her mental state before leaving London for Venice, and her ( what seems like undiagnosed and most definitely untreated) PTSD post surviving World War 2 and dealing with the death of her parents. She meets a 20 year old calling herself Gilly, who in typical suspense novel fashion , claims to know Frances but Frances can't place her at all. The author's description of Venice , in off-season, is excellent, and the place comes alive. I loved the descriptions of Frances' daily routines and observations of Venice as a crumbling realm, haunted by ghosts of her time in the sun. The stress she's under to write a book that matches her first novel ,is described very well too. What I didn't like though, were the rest of her characters- Gilly's motivations aren't clear at all, and quite honestly make no sense. Frances seems to be leading quite a full life, comfortable in a new country with a new language, till the author decides to change her behaviour, sometimes mid-paragraph, which is almost whiplash inducing. She's also immensely privileged- most people suffering from writer's block wouldn't get a Venetian Palazzo, complete with housekeeper! Her friend who owns it, Jack, seems to go above and beyond in performing her duties of friendship and care, so some of Frances' insecurity came across as mildly annoying- this is a woman who survived the Blitz, her parents death, has written 4 successful books, why depict her in this way, merely to force fit a Gothic narrative? I found the writing to be a little too in love with form over substance- suspense novels can't coast along merely on things that go bump in the dark and fog, you need the plot to be tautly wound and tension to be maintained. This book focusses too much on the former and not on the latter. So while the book kept me hooked while I was reading it because her descriptions are very good, and it's interesting to read about a writers process, it's not a memorable read. I would still recommend it, though, it's a perfect summer beach read!
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Palace of the Drowned is a suspenseful, transporting literary thriller about a British novelist who heads to Venice after a public breakdown. It's 1966 and Frankie Croy is desperate to escape. Years have passed since the initial success of her debut novel, and Frankie has spent her career trying to live up to the expectations of her editor and fans, only to fall short with each new publication. Now, after a particularly scathing review of her most recent work, alongside a very public breakdown, Frankie retreats to her friend's vacant palazzo in Venice in the hopes of recapturing some of the inspiration that once motivated her.

Then Gilly appears. A precocious young admirer eager to befriend her favourite author, Gilly seems determined to insinuate herself into Frankie's solitary life. But there's something about the young woman that continues to give Frankie pause, that makes her wonder just how much of what Gilly tells her is actually the truth. Set against the catastrophic 1966 flooding of Venice, the encounters between these two women will ultimately lead to a series of lies and revelations that will tragically disrupt both of their lives.

This is a compulsive, captivating and immersive literary thriller steeped in 60's nostalgia and explores the crazy world of celebrity and those chasing said status. Christine Mangan has a knack for painting characters as though they're appearing in a movie before your very eyes; they're vivid and full of life and leap off the pages of the book. The narrative brings the mystery of Venice to life through rich, evocative descriptions while delivering a beautifully rendered and twisted tale of art, ambition and human nature, and it asks the question: how far is one willing to go to achieve success. Highly recommended.
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I loved the authors previous novel 'Tangerine', so when I saw she had a new book coming out I was keen to start reading it.

I wasn't immediately convinced, it started slow and took a while to grab my attention, but I'm glad I persevered as before long I found myself transported to Venice in the 60's. The impeccable scene setting and atmosphere of this novel almost reminiscent of a Hitchcock thriller with its vivid portrayal of the faded grandeur and deserted walkways of Venice out of season drawing me in and as the storm approached, the waters rose and the sense of foreboding grew, I was hooked.

The portrayal of an established author struggling to recreate the magic of her previous bestseller, feeling isolated and vulnerable in a strange city was superbly done, as was the feeling of unease as a stranger claiming a previous acquaintance made her appearance.

I really liked this one despite the slow start, it was more of a slow burn kind of book, the type that lingers in your thoughts long after you’ve finished reading it.

It didn’t have same magnetic appeal from the outset as the authors previous novel but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it and I'll definitely be at the front of the queue when her next novel is released, eager to see where she will be transporting me to next. Rating 4.5/5
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Ever since I read Christine Mangan’s debut novel, Tangerine, back in 2018 I’ve been prowling the book-o-sphere for news of another book.  Her gift for creating a stylish, atmospheric and influential setting, and a quietly simmering tension that’s been likened to Patricia Highsmith, rendered me a huge and effusive fan of her work. Since I learned of that longed-for second novel, Palace of the Drowned, I’ve been beside myself waiting to read it.  Thanks to NetGalley, for making this reader’s wish come true!

I’m not going to write about the plot of the story as the book’s own synopsis (above) covers this quite effusively, and I’m not a fan of spoilers.  For me to add anything else about the finer points would definitely stray into that territory, and taint your enjoyment of the various mysteries yet to reveal themselves to you.

My review focuses instead on the reader-relationship I developed with this book, because (to me) Christine Mangan is quite a seductress with her words.  Their cadence and weave are placed with impeccable care and attention, evoking a wonderfully hypnotic narrative. With both her books I’ve found myself utterly immersed in her settings, both in terms of their geography and their era. To borrow (and paraphrase) a wonderful line I read within this novel; the story unwinds itself within me.

The setting for Palace of the Drowned is a jaded but elegant Venice, not the glossy romanticised city of our tourguide-engorged expectations.  It brought an authentic, faded grandeur to the backdrop that I found inescapably hypnotic.  Even the party that Gilly coaxes Frankie to had a hauntingly out-of-time, fever-dream quality to it.  The sights, sounds, smells and sensations are rendered with a bewitching clarity; I’ve never been to Venice but since starting this book it’s been added in big capital letters to my bucket list.  I’m now yearning to experience the bustling markets, to scoff the delicious local krapfen pastries in a café overlooking one of the many campo, to sip red wine outside Frankie’s favourite bacari, to watch the golden hour (and the blue hour), to lose myself in the twisting streets and alleys and dead-ends, to be swaddled by the rolling fogs and all-consuming silent darkness of the uniquely Venetian nights. These details - and more - launch 1960s Venice out of the pages and into your mind’s eye with incredibly clarity; the gondolas and canals and lagoon are all part of the setting, but the author relies on her reader’s awareness of these landmarks, using them symbolically to create a mood, or elicit a low-level crackle of claustrophobic entrapment.

As central characters go, Frankie is a bold choice - she’s prickly, secretive and solitary, making it difficult for the reader to connect with her.  Her complexities are deepened further by her unpredictability and paranoia … and one or two episodes that make it clear she’s not the most reliable narrator.  Frankie’s irascible nature is offset nicely by the cheerful and outgoing Gilly, and although it took me a while to settle into their unlikely connection, I enjoyed the contrast they brought to the story.  However, secrecy was a trait common to both characters, and whilst this forms the crux of the tension within the novel, there were occasions when I became a little frustrated by it.

There’s a foreboding sense of watchfulness throughout the plot, one that’s brought to bear both by the book’s other characters, and the palazzo itself.  For a private character such as Frankie, this adds stifling touch of noir to the plot, albeit one that sadly loses its potency when she heads back home to London.  Frankie is in Venice ostensibly to focus on recreating the magic of her first, highly-acclaimed novel, but the solitude and privacy she longed for is punctured by Maria; the surly housekeeper, and the mysterious inhabitant of the neighbouring apartment.  Whilst the city starts to assert itself as Frankie’s muse, the harrying phone calls from her editor, Harold, and the well-meaning - albeit misguided - enquiries of her friend, Jack (she/her!), combined with Gilly’s mercurial presence all conspire against Frankie’s composition.

When I wrote my review for Tangerine, I summed it up as follows: “This is what I would call a quiet suspense; it’s been elegantly written with a light touch, and the slow-burn style that reminds me of some of Hitchcock’s films … you know there are going to be creepy moments that give you goosebumps, but it’s delivered modestly and without fanfare … it’s an homage to 1950’s noir.”  I adored the book for those qualities.  Palace of the Drowned has taken the quiet lack of fanfare to another level.  The smouldering, low-level sense of unease is even less distinct, ebbing and flowing to a degree that the goosebumps I so craved from this novel didn’t get the opportunity to really make themselves felt.  I know I keep harking back to Tangerine, but I’m finding it hard not to hold the two novels up for comparison.  This extreme subtlety, combined with a character set I struggled to connect with, offset the genuine enjoyment I’d felt for many other elements of the book; the setting, atmosphere, and it’s struggling-author plot line were all superb and held so much promise, as did the hauntingly fatalistic history of the Palazzo itself.

Whilst there is a degree of ‘historical’ to this novel, I’ve not read it as a work of historical fiction in its purest form as the era is really just a contextual setting rather than the reason the novel came into being. The vernacular, styles and social details all help to enhance an unfamiliar backdrop, with a beautiful visual imagery that’s powerful enough to convince me that - in the right hands - we humans are capable of time travel. 

Palace of the Drowned is undoubtedly going to be much talked about.  Whilst my experience with this book has very different to the first novel, I hugely enjoyed giving myself up to the author's wonderful knack for transporting her readers into a waking dream.
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4.5 stars
Frankie a writer in her late thirties escapes to Venice after an 'incident' in London. She just wants to escape but when a young woman claiming an acquaintance arrives on the scene things may not be all that they appear.; is Frankie having a breakdown or are other factors at play?

After having read and enjoyed Tangerine I was excited to begin Palace of the Drowned and I was not disappointed as I loved it. There was a definite Highsmith vibe and the descriptions of Venice and the atmosphere that was created was truly evocative. A slow burner of a novel that left me feeling more than a little unsettled.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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Frankie Croy is staying in Venice at an old friend's palazzo, she has fled London after an incident at a book launch which unfortunately was witnessed by a reporter who blows it up in the public eye.. Frankie, a writer is under pressure to produce a novel by her publishing house, her previous novels have not done so well as her first novel and she is experiencing a huge amount of pressure to produce something.  Whilst in Venice she has been living a solitary existence, one day she is approached by a young woman, Gilly, who claims she is a friend's daughter.  Frankie is suspicious immediately and yet finds herself being pulled in to Gilly's world.

Having reading Mangan's previous outing Tangerine you can see the same literary influences, Patricia Highsmith is clearly one such influence.  Palace of the Drowned features similar character types as found in Tangerine, and again the plot is about an English woman abroad, isolated and alone.  This is a slow burn read with the tension building, I found it odd that Frankie, who is an older, experienced woman, and yet allows herself to be 'played' by Gilly.  I must admit I had worked alot of the plot out however if you are looking for a literary thiller Palace of Drowned is worth a read.
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Another excellent book by Christine Mangan.  Like in "Tangerine", Mangan really knows how to bring the surroundings of the setting alive, and in "Palace of the Drowned", I really did feel like I was in Venice.  Playing on the fears that authors have that after the success of their first books, the rest don't live up to expectation, "Palace of the Drowned" has nothing to fear, unlike Frankie, the central character.  A real psychological thriller.
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2.5 stars

For me ,this book dragged.
A lot.
I got to the end,and didn't really feel it justified the time I'd spent reading it.
I dislike giving bad reviews as there is nearly always something to like about a book,and in this case,the setting of out of season Venice was very atmospheric,as was the house Frankie stayed in.
I didnt warm to,or loathe any of the characters,so the whole book just felt a bit flat to me.
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I absolutely adored Christine Mangan's second novel, set during a Venice winter at the time of the Great Flood of 1966. Author Frankie Croy has fled from London following the publication of her last unsuccessful novel and subsequent breakdown and is staying in a friend's crumbling  Venetian palazzo. In Venice, she meets a young woman,  Gilly, who claims to know Frankie from London. Frankie is a unreliable narrator and not a particularly likeable character,  however I felt that she was sensitively and empathically portrayed. Her behaviour stems from the trauma she experienced during the Second World War and following the sudden deaths of her parents. This is a slow burning, atmospheric novel with beautiful and hypnotic writing that builds up the sense of underlying tension and reflects the state of Frankie's mind. I was totally immersed in this stunning novel , I savoured every word and it will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended. 
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital ARC.
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