Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Count Karlstein - Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's Count Karlstein won the Whitbread Award and is based on a play he wrote (when he was a middle-school teacher) for his class to perform.

The story is set in a Swiss village in 1816 and revolves around wicked Count Karlstein, his two wards, the English orphans Lucy and Charlotte, and the very nasty Faustian bargain Karlstein struck with Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, ten years ago. Zamiel annually haunts the local woods on All Souls' Eve and everyone usually stays safely at home in order to stay out his way. Pullman adds further interest to the mix of characters with the appearance of the orphans' former schoolteacher, the indomitable Augusta Davenport ("I was able to console myself with the reflection that an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol"), and the actor (and sometime mountebank) known as Doctor Cadavarezzi (aka Signor Brilliantini), a conman who's as charming as he is sly. The tale is briskly narrated by a variety of characters, including Lucy (who is heavily influenced by such contemporary Gothic novels as The Mysteries of Udolpho) and the bumbling, hilariously self-important police sergeant Snitsch (almost all the names in this tale are puns). The plot undergoes a series of twists and turns that are both complicated and delightfully improbable, yet also funny. In an exuberant conclusion that's reminiscent of the best comic operas, the orphans find a true protector, the evil Count is served his just deserts and the formidable Miss Davenport is reunited with her long-lost love. Children will love this tale!

Count Karlstein is also available as an Audiobook and it's available in the US from Amazon.com. And you can read the first chapter at the Random House website.


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to read this one for ages -- thanks for the reminder!

Michele said...

You're welcome !!