A World Elsewhere

 A World Elsewhere by Wayne Johnston

Wayne Johnston said he was inspired to write this story after visiting the Biltmore estate in North Carolina. The Vanderbuilt family's names are here changed from George, Edith, and Cornelia, to Pagett, Gertrude and Godwin Vanderluyden, and their home to Vanderland. The story, and all the words and actions of the characters are fiction.

Landish Druken met Pagett Vanderluyden, called Van, as a student at Princeton. They became good friends but when they left university, after Van set Landish up and got him expelled, they went their separate ways. Van, who would inherit a fortune, went to North Carolina to build the house he claimed would be the most magnificent in the country. Landish, who rejected his own inheritance because of differences with his father, went back to Newfoundland to live in an attic room in poverty. 

Landish adopts a baby boy because he holds his own father responsible for the death of the child's father. Back in the attic room he tends the child, spending his days writing and each night burning what he wrote. When he becomes desperate to provide for the boy, he writes to Van asking for help. Eventually they join him in North Carolina at Vanderland, where Landish is to tutor Van's daughter. That sounds like a good opportunity, but both Van and Landish are deeply troubled characters and it turns out to be a precarious situation for everybody.    

At this point I found the story dragged a bit and I began to wonder what the point was, but his writing is so good I didn't think seriously about not finishing,  and in the end I was glad kept going.  

The characters in this book and others of Johnston's that I've read are unlike any I meet anywhere else, and yet they are always relatable on some level. They're just peculiar enough that you are compelled to try to understand them, even when you're furious with them. You want so much for them to succeed, to live better, to stop self-destructing. There are layers and layers to each of them, and to the plot - he really is a brilliant writer. I did like this one, but maybe not quite so much as the others. 

I got the opportunity to visit the Biltmore Estate a few years ago and it is nothing short of breathtaking. It's a working estate with a tourist village that's fun to explore, but the jewel of the estate is the house, as seen in this picture I took while there. Hard to believe it was home to a family of only three, but at least one of those floors was probably used to house the large staff required to keep it running.

We stayed at the nearby Biltmore Inn, also a beautiful place. This was our lovely room:

And here's the link to their website where you can take a virtual tour: 


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