Skip to main content

Natural Flights of the Human Mind

Review

Natural Flights of the Human Mind



Peter Straker lives alone in a lighthouse on the Devon coast. But
his mind is full of the voices of 78 people who died in a train
wreck almost 25 years ago. Peter feels responsible; he is sure he
caused their deaths but isn't certain how. In the lighthouse, as
the coast tears away at the shore, he hears their voices,
accusations and sometimes even their kindness. Peter lives like a
hermit, going to town only for food and supplies and talking to no
one. But the arrival of Imogen Doody forces him out of his exile
and back into the world of the living.

Clare Morrall's sophomore effort, following ASTONISHING SPLASHES OF
COLOUR (a Booker Prize finalist) centers on Peter and Imogen as
they navigate a tenuous and emotional relationship that makes each
deal with their tragic past and their hopes for the future.

Imogen, or "Doody," is a school caretaker, an angry woman with no
friends and a strained relationship with her family. She discovers
she has inherited a cottage on the Devon coast from a godfather she
never knew. The cottage is a dream come true, a place to be alone
with her thoughts and perhaps even finish the novel she
half-heartedly has been working on. But the cottage is also a
disaster, abandoned and decrepit, and she has neither the money nor
the know-how to fix it up. It is her activity in the cottage that
attracts Peter, and he talks with his first living person in years
when he meets Doody. Her anger flashes again and again and he
retreats to his lighthouse again and again, but they eventually
come to something of a truce and begin to work on the cottage
together.

Over time they open up to each other and discover that both were
emotionally scarred and damaged 25 years ago --- Peter with the
train wreck and Doody when her husband abandoned her never to be
heard from again. Could the events be related? And why does the
discovery that Doody has also inherited a small plane make Peter so
upset? What happened to Doody's husband, and what happened when
Peter last flew a plane almost 25 years ago?

Although Morrall's book is not a mystery, these questions and
others haunt the narrative as they do the characters.

NATURAL FLIGHTS OF THE HUMAN MIND is a beautiful, thoughtful and
thoroughly successful novel. Morrall's characters seem and act
real; while the foundational events are quite extraordinary, Peter
and Doody are just normal people who are lonely and guilty and more
than a little afraid of relationships and the future.

Morrall's prose is lovely and quite readable. This is serious stuff
without being heavy, and character-driven without being dull. And
there is resolution without easy answers or clich├ęs. This is
also a novel that is creative in its description and use of
setting. The lighthouse seems to be crumbling along with the shore
as Peter explores the truth of his responsibility and the world at
large intrudes upon his solitude. Doody must clear away the years
of misuse to find the beauty and functional space in the
cottage.

Guilt, grief, family, forgiveness, tragic pasts, drama, an
unforgettable setting and uniquely drawn characters --- this novel
has it all.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 12, 2011

Natural Flights of the Human Mind
by Clare Morrall

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060843365
  • ISBN-13: 9780060843366