The Broken Teaglass Synopsis
The dusty files of a venerable dictionary publisher . . . a hidden cache of coded clues . . . a story written by a phantom author . . . an unsolved murder in a gritty urban park-all collide memorably in Emily Arsenault‘s magnificent debut, at once a teasing literary puzzle, an ingenious suspense novel, and an exploration of definitions: of words, of who we are, and of the stories we choose to define us.
In the maze of cubicles at Samuelson Company, editors toil away in silence, studying the English language, poring over new expressions and newly coined words—all in preparation for the next, new edition of the Samuelson Dictionary. Among them is editorial assistant Billy Webb, just out of college, struggling to stay awake and appear competent. But there are a few distractions. His intriguing coworker, Mona Minot, may or may not be flirting with him. And he’s starting to sense something suspicious going on beneath this company’s academic facade.
Mona has just made a startling discovery in the office files: a trove of puzzling quotations, all taken from the same book, “The Broken Teaglass.” Billy and Mona soon learn that no such book exists. And the quotations from it are far too long, twisting and bizarre for any dictionary. They read like a confessional, coyly hinting at a hidden identity, a secret liaison, a crime. As Billy and Mona ransack the office files, a chilling story begins to emerge: a story about a lonely young woman, a long-unsolved mystery, a moment of shattering violence. And as they piece together its fragments, the puzzle begins to take on bigger personal meaning for both of them, compelling them to redefine their notions of themselves and each other. (From Emily Arsenault’s website)
I love word puzzles, so the premise of this tale, a mystery set in a dictionary publisher’s office ticked all the right boxes. But over and above the quirky wordlover factor, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Broken Teaglass was actually grittier than I had expected.
The Broken Teaglass mystery is cleverly constructed. Debut author Emily Arsenault has taken care to develop her ensemble cast of characters slowly, creating tension and gradually revealing depth in unexpected places.
“Well, I was about to say that these cits are different. This is the one story I want to finish. This story is driving me crazy. Because I know it’s not just hacked out of some magazine. There’s no way to go to the library and look it up. It’s because there’s no clear way to find the rest that I care.”
I also commend Arsenault for not taking the all too easy and unrealistic option of tying up everything neatly in a bow at the ending.
The Broken Teaglass explores the strength of spirit and character in the context of the fragility of life — how each split second decision can have wide ramifications for ourselves and those we interact with. This is a story about honour and loyalty and making the most of what one has, whether it be time or acquaintances – quality sentiments from a quality novel.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Literature
Author Information: Emily Arsenault has worked as a lexicographer (like her characters Billy and Mona), an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. Arsenault wrote The Broken Teaglass to pass the long, quiet evenings in her mud brick house while living in rural South Africa. Emily now lives in Massachusetts. (from the book jacket)
– Check out Emily Arsenault’s website;
– Arsenault’s second novel, In Search of the Rose Notes, will be published on 26 July 2011.