At the Venice Biennale, an aspiring assistant curator from the Midwest meets Bernard Augustin, the wealthy, enigmatic founder of the Nauk, a cutting-edge art museum on Cape Cod. It's been two years since the tragic death of the Nauk's chief curator, Augustin's childhood friend and muse, Alena. When Augustin offers the position to our heroine (who, like du Maurier's original, remains nameless) she dives at the chance - and quickly finds herself well out of her depth.
The Nauk echoes with phantoms of the past - a past obsessively preserved by the museum's business manager and the rest of the staff. Their devotion to the memory of the charismatic Alena threatens to stifle the new curator's efforts to realize her own creative vision, and her every move mires her more deeply in artistic, erotic, and emotional entanglements.
When new evidence calls into question the circumstances of Alena's death, her loyalty, integrity, and courage are put to the test, and shattering secrets surface. Stirring and provocative, Alena is the result of a delicious visitation of one of the most popular novels of the twentieth century on a brilliant and inventive novelist of the twenty-first.
"Riveting. . . . Flush with erotic intrigues . . . Pastan has written a smart, chilling thriller that leaves readers thoroughly spooked." (Publishers Weekly)
"Rachel Pastan's haunting story comes alive through Carla Mercer-Meyer's engaging portrayal.... She convincingly draws her listener into the poetic rhythm of the story and its details. The lyricism in her first-person voice is persuasive." (AudioFile)
"This skillfully crafted novel, which sustains the tension of a ghost story, is both an homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and an insightful meditation on our obsessive preoccupation with death - simultaneously creepy and entrancing." (John Irving)
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I Wanted to Like this Book
I love museums. I wanted to love this book but the "new" curator was just too naive and such a push over. I finally had to stop listening or throw my Kindle against the wall.
- Amazon Customer
So far, I'm having a problem with the narrator
I'm about 5 hours in, and in spite of my disappointment that, so far, ALENA is more of a tepid, often clumsy REBECCA retell (rather the homage I was hoping for), I plan to give Ms. Pastan the benefit of the doubt and read on. The big disappointment is in the performance by Carla Mercer-Meyer, and not just because I find her speaking voice grating and inexpressive. Like the book this one so closely shadows, much of the plot hangs on the unworldly nature of its unnamed main character (who is also its narrator), but in ALENA, that character is a young woman with a graduate degree in art history whose career goal is to be the curator of an art museum. It is very difficult for me to believe, however, that after six years of studying the European masters, a trip to Venice to kick off the main plot of the book plus a number of years between then and the now of the book in close association with a man whose background is anything but unworldly and who has spent a lifetime in cross-cultural navigation with great success, and our narrator as performed by Ms. Mercer-Meyer can get no closer to a passable pronunciation of the Italian master fresco artist's name than Gee-OH-TOE? Really? And it's not as if that is the only gaffe. There are scores of them. We hear reference after reference to the art and artists (and their cultures) this woman is supposed to have studied, but either through inept direction or natural ignorance, the total absence of any attempt to make is seem as if she has even a passing aural acquaintance with any language other than her own American English makes credibility practically impossible, and (is it obvious) is coloring to a major extent my 'enjoyment' of the reading.
I'll let you know.
I'm pretty sure I've already covered that question. See above.
It has held my interest to the extent that, in spite of the dreadful narrator, I'm forging on.
- Michael McConnell