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A story of love, art, and obsession in Victorian England from debut novelist Lori Baker

The Glass Ocean is a story of becoming. Flamehaired, six-foot-two in stocking feet, newly orphaned Carlotta Dell’oro recounts the lives of her parents—solitary glassmaker Leopoldo Dell’oro and beautiful, unreachable Clotilde Girard—and discovers in their loves and losses, their omissions and obsessions, the circumstances of her abandonment and the weight of her inheritance. With a master artisan’s patience and exquisite craft, debut novelist Lori Baker has created a gemlike Victorian world, a place where mistakes of the past reappear in the future, art can destroy, and family is not to be trusted.

Leopoldo and Clotilde meet in 1841 aboard the Narcissus, on an expedition led by Clotilde’s magnanimous, adventuring father. It’s Leopoldo’s task to document the animals of the high sea, and by his skilled hand the drawings become the only record of these secretive creatures’ existence. But what possesses his mind is golden Clotilde, and soon his papers fill with images of her, beginning a devotion that will prove inescapable. Clotilde meanwhile sees only her dear papa, but when he goes missing she is pushed to Leopoldo, returning with him to the craggy English shores of Whitby, the place to which Leopoldo vowed he would never return.

There they form an uneasy coexistence, lost to each other. Clotilde asks only for her papa, and Leopoldo turns to town, where he finds himself in the employ of a local glassblower. There, he begins to conceive his newest project: transforming his sketches into glass, blowing life and light into the darkest creatures. But in finding his art he surrenders Clotilde, and the distance between the two is only confirmed by the birth of baby Carlotta.

Years have passed and Carlotta is now grown. A friend from the past comes to Whitby and with his arrival sets in motion the Dell’oros’ inevitable disintegration. Soon Carlotta is left alone to determine the course of her future, though perhaps it is written already. In hypnotic, inimitable prose Lori Baker’s The Glass Ocean transforms a story of family into something as otherworldly and mesmerizing as life beneath the sea itself.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “An adventure of dreamlike momentum and romantic intensity, brought alive by a storyteller with uncanny access to the Victorians, not only to the closely woven texture of their days but also to the dangerous nocturnal fires being attended to in their hearts.”

    Thomas Pynchon, National Book Award–winning author

  • The Glass Ocean is that rarest of things, a historical novel, or at least a novel set in history, that is also a work of art. Lori Baker is a captivating storyteller, and her prose has the flash and fire of molten glass.”

    John Banville, Man Booker Prize–winning author

  • “Baker’s unforgettable tale is rich with nuance, buried passions, and Victorian oddities, offering passage into an extraordinary world.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Hauntingly beautiful…Gorgeously written and elegantly evocative, Baker’s prose brings the Dell’oros’ world to life and drives home the tragedy of their fruitless longings.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Set in the Victorian world but neither Dickensian nor steampunk, this debut novel by Bobst Literary Award winner Baker is narrated by red-haired, six-foot-plus Carlotta Dell’oro who relates the story of her parents' lives…. Love, art, and history; who can resist?”

    Library Journal

  • “There are dazzling passages, and the concrete details of glass manufacture reign in the mannered prose…Baker has gone all-in to capture Carlotta’s voice. This decision is admirable and risky. It is excessive, expressionistic.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • The Glass Ocean is breathtakingly good—as though Jean Rhys had come back from the dead to outdo Wide Sargasso Sea. So completely satisfying (as well as satisfyingly disturbing) that at the end one doesn’t wish it would go on forever because the ending itself is so beautifully right. Hat, shirt, and shoes off to a wizard of fiction.”

    Harry Mathews, author of The Conversions

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About the Author

Lori Baker is the author of Crash and Tell: Stories; Crazy Water: Six Fictions, which won the Mamdouha S. Bobst Literary Award; and Scraps. She has taught fiction writing, journalism, and composition at Brown University, Boston College, and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. She lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.