You guys ... whimper. Let me be honest; this book was probably/doubtless part of a misguided search for another series like Julia Sp...more3.5? 4? Confusion?
You guys ... whimper. Let me be honest; this book was probably/doubtless part of a misguided search for another series like Julia Spencer-Fleming's, which is just a stupid thing to hope for in any way. The odd thing is that there are quite a few parallels, though the effect is so different I won't call them similarities.
The protagonist is a Garda Inspector (although we don't have "chief of police" as a position - rank structure here for your fascinated reading, he's not the boss, anyway) in a small town, and a very rural area. This is near the Border, and he lives in the Republic - as will be evident to any Irish readers. VERY small town, with all that goes along with that, as with Russ's situation. The body count is as unrealistically high for the area as it is in most of JS-F's, although (this isn't a spoiler, unless you avoid ANY reading of blurbs, back-cover descriptions and the like) the murders turn out to be connected.
The protagonist, Ben, is married, and there's temptation from outside that marriage, though this part of the plot is handled both more realistically and *much* less appealingly, than Russ's temptation from outside the marriage. It's more realistic in that Ben's wife is aware of what's not-going-on-but-might from essentially the first minute it becomes a possibility. In a town as small as Millers Kill, with everyone knowing about Russ and Clare, the fact that Linda wasn't alerted to it went beyond her complete lack of interest in Russ's life in terms of credibility. On the other hand, the "old flame" is a horror (as is her husband, so all fair), and Ben needs the good verbal smacking he gets from his wife about it. I'd have liked him a LOT more if he hadn't been tempted, as he a) has a wife who actually cares and very young children he dotes on; b) should have been over it, and c) the Other Woman is awful. (I think the temptation was there to parallel another part of the story, but I didn't like it either, and it all seemed to boil down to "men are idiots who are no match for their chromosomes/hormones".)
There's also just the one woman Gaurd, and she does have a bit of a relationship with one of the men (as well as an abusive ex), but she's no Hadley! I liked her quite a lot anyway, and there were wonderful moments, like when the Superintendent, older and more than a bit old-fashioned with it, has her leave an interrogation because "Don't want to have a lady have to listen to that kind of chat. No place for a girl like Caroline." Ben is unsure whether to point out that his behaviour would have the Superintendent up in front of an industrial tribunal, but decides there's no point.
And there's the religion. Again, similarity in that it's there - as differently as it's possible to be though! Ben is an apparently devout Catholic, and it leads to some wonderful "only in Ireland" moments. The sadder of those was when he went - as a matter of course - to the wake of the first murder victim, presented a Mass card, and said "prayed three Hail Marys for the redemption of the soul of Angela Cashell". He has a sound investigating reason for going too, and gets to that, but *after* his utterly sincere entering into the spirit of the ritual.
Funnier (well, to me, at least - I've no idea how this would read outside of the country!), with a side of serious chilling, was when he went to the local parish priest during confession and asked him if he could get info from the IRA about one of the victims. And then asks the priest to hear his confession. It's chilling because the parish priest is elderly and only moved to the area from Derry a few years ago. While in Derry he had mediated between the IRA and the British government (while having affiliations to neither), and managed to keep the respect and trust of both. When Ben goes to him he gets in touch with one of his Republican contacts, who is willing - just - to tell Ben about whether the IRA had been involved in the disappearance of a woman years ago. (I thought it a bit unrealistic that Ben would get lecturey to the guy on the phone, having got the information he needed, but whatever.) Especially relevant atm because of the accusations against Gerry Adams for involvement in the IRA's disappearance of a woman in 1972.
Overall, this book was pretty depressing reading, as there were quite a few truly horrible people doing unspeakable things, and the protagonist isn't totally likeable himself. He is on the side of justice for the most part, and occasionally manages an impressive ability to maintain sympathy even for the perpetrators of violent crime. I also liked that, without any major hand-waving, there was a positive depiction of a nun who'd been in charge of an orphanage in Dublin, who pointed the way to the need for compassion in judging some kids. On the flip side again, though, I found the eventual resolution of the present-day murders very hard to buy, as they were so brutal. (view spoiler)[Also, as they were not even against the people who'd killed their mother, but their children. (hide spoiler)]
Another odd little coincidental parallel was that an outcome I'd thought likely in Through All Evil Days that didn't happen, looked even more likely in this, and didn't happen. (view spoiler)[ The dog even saved Ben and his family too! And was just about to be shot by Ben, when he saw the puma - last-minute reprieves are the best!! (hide spoiler)] No - one more: there's a lot of cross-border cooperation, and Ben reflects on how much better it is now than it used to be, but his counterpart in the North has the kind of cooperative-with-edge relationship Russ and Bob have before book 8. He's helpful and they get along fine (better than Russ and Bob actually), but every time Ben goes to him for help for something on his turf, he has to get in a little dig about the superiority of British intelligence. Like the State Troopers to the MKPD, maybe. Unnecessarily snide, anyway. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I didn't feel as warmly towards Angigoddess as the four stars might indicate, but as that's because I hate the Iliad and all its gods, goddesses and m...moreI didn't feel as warmly towards Angigoddess as the four stars might indicate, but as that's because I hate the Iliad and all its gods, goddesses and most of the heroes, and only liked the Odyssey because it's so much less painful, the rating acknowledges that I'm not precisely the perfect audience for this book. Indeed, I probably wouldn't have gone near it except for Melissa's and Jacob's reviews, which intrigued me.
Like them both, Athena was the main draw for me - if you're writing the ancient Greek gods in modern-day setting, there's a delicate balance between depicting them as the unutterably noxious bunch of -- well, anyway, Homeric style! -- and making them fully sympathetic, in which case they're hardly credible as themselves. Hera can stay a flaming horror, as she does, but Athena struck me as very cleverly balanced there; she's been changed by her many, many years among humans, and she's been changed enough to regret some of her actions in the Trojan War, but she's still believable as herself. Her relationships with Hermes and then Odysseus were wonderful, and both of those characters were great in themselves too. The only thing is Odysseus didn't feel anything like Homer's character to me - possibly because he's playing such an odd role, where he has no chance to use his tricksy brain.
The sections with Cassandra, Aidan and co. weren't at all as successful for me, though possibly just as well-done. With Odysseus, we at least got to hear when he became himself again (though what he'd been 'doing' over the centuries wasn't clear), and then his reuniting with Athena made sense. How Apollo found Cassandra, and how long he'd been hanging around - what, waiting for her to be born? - was fuzzier. And not in a way that seemed intentional, unlike, for example, the fact that Athena and Hermes know they're dying, but can't find out why or why now. I'm admitting that it might be 'well' done, because honestly, what god/human relationship wasn't more than a bit awful? Cassandra's one of the most pitiable figures of Homer and this, and yet I never really felt anything for her. (view spoiler)[ Even at Aidan/Apollo's funeral, the only thing that felt sad was Athena and Hermes: their shock at having to grieve a brother's death and their desire to give him a proper funeral ceremony. (hide spoiler)]
I thought the ending in general was a bit weaker than it could have been, but also liked that, to put it vaguely, it ensured that book 2 won't have a lot of repeats of the events of book 1. (view spoiler)[ I could *easily* have seen its consisting of Hera chasing our remaining gods & heroes around with just some new allies. Extremely glad that won't be the case! (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Well, crap. I was all ready to write a very short, rather dismissive review, saying that there was one thing I loved about the book but only that one,...moreWell, crap. I was all ready to write a very short, rather dismissive review, saying that there was one thing I loved about the book but only that one, and how the characters were all so privileged on so many levels that I didn’t care about them - done and dusted. Lazy as I am (and with so many recent reads unreviewed), it would have been quite a relief to be able to do that, especially as it’s still true to a degree. Happily, though virtually everyone will now have heard that there’s a TWIST - a big old twisty twist - most of what I want to say about the book can be done without talking about that (in part because I find it a bit -- silly? Irrelevant. Something non-essential, anyway). A little in a spoiler at the end. (Review is doubtless going to be full of typos, which I'll try to edit later - apologies!)
I finished the night before last, just before bed, and since then some things have happened that made the short, dismissive review I was planning feel a little less satisfying, without in any way tipping me over into thinking I loved the book, or it was amazing, the best thing E. Lockhart has ever written or anything of that sort. The first of those was talking to my daughter, who planned to read it too, and had also just finished a book last night. It didn’t seem to have much of what we’ve both loved in most of Lockhart’s other books, and so I was sorting through in a recommend-or-not kind of way with that in my head. Then Francesca pointed to the Book Smuggler’s review, and I starting thinking about it in terms of what was said there, that “The Point” of the book was to show the hugely "hurtful" things that unacknowledged privilege does.
So, if one takes (for the moment) that as a starting point, I’d have to say it would leave me thinking the book fails. Not because the characters aren’t privileged and believable as such, or because their privilege and lack of (adequate) awareness of it isn’t highlighted, again and again. But rather because if there’s any point to making this point, it’s got to be to make readers look at our own privilege. Almost by definition, the percentage of readers who identify in any way with this family is going to be tiny, and nothing about the author’s other books says she’s likely to waste her considerable talents writing a “let me now shoot these ducks in this privilege barrel” kind of book. One thing I’ve always felt Lockhart does extremely well is very acute observation, and when I was thinking about how this book felt weaker because the family was so beyond privileged, I started wondering if I was missing a trick there. I said before that there was one thing I loved about the book, and that was the use of fairy and folk tales throughout. The narrator, Cady, keeps coming back to variants of a story - some familiar, some not - and while some of the tales have happy endings, there’s also the underlying presence of the tragedy of King Lear. So, there’s the bit that kept popping up and disturbing the “privilege is bad and that’s the point” idea; the folk & fairy tales (and King Lear, obviously) usually deal with kings and princesses and other such privileged people, but if we love these stories, it’s for their universality. And even as I was sharing the contempt we’re invited to feel towards not only Cady’s grandfather but his three daughters, for fighting each other and using their own kids to try to win his approval (and massive inheritance, not coincidentally), I kept feeling that the story of parents who don’t love their kids for who they are, rather than for how closely they fit parental expectations was a universal one. (Oops, there shows my privilege! It’s not universal, but it’s very common in many better-off countries, at least.) This was exactly what the grandfather was doing, while manipulating his daughters to try to jump through hoops to please him. Similarly, the story of adult kids whose parents haven’t done the sensible thing and divided whatever property they own equally among their children (except in cases of incapacity, of course, or whatever good reasons there might be) wrangling over possessions, often as symbolic of love/approval, isn’t one that applies only to houses on privately-owned islands off Martha’s Vineyard. (I still get the shudders remembering a conversation with my ex-MIL about how they might leave their house solely to my ex (the oldest son) in order to prevent something quite unlikely happening after their death that nobody else would really care about. I was not entirely tactful in pointing out that this was a terrible idea, which would probably lead to the others hating my ex forever. The family was obviously well-off enough at that point to have had a house, but privileged? - in most ways, no.)
This only leads back to a question of what “the point” was, though. If it wasn’t just an obvious depiction of how destructive unexamined privilege can be, was it the less obvious (in terms of the book, but more obvious as a “message”) - that wealth doesn’t give people happiness, good family relationships or anything except (a LOT of) power that’ll only make everyone miserable in the end? That would be kind of banal, really, and while I don’t think the book was great, I don’t think it was quite that bad. Of course, I keep putting “the point”, capitalized or not, in inverted commas for a reason, and that reason is that I’m a bit unconvinced about (most) books written these days having a point. (Only said unconvinced, as not every book with a point - or even a message - is a bad thing.)
Back to what I think E. Lockhart usually does best - that’s observation, and social commentary. I don’t know whether the depiction of these ultra-rich New Englanders is as accurate as her other portrayals, although I came to realise that that’s not as important as I thought when I started writing this. So many things are spot on. For example, the line about Cady’s grandfather’s being racist while not wanting to think of himself that way as he voted for Obama after all, rang all too true. There was a frightening truth also to the way the little mottos of the grandfather’s - “never take no for an answer”, and “never apologise, never explain” especially - came to be seen as having played out in his life. Some relatively harmless ideas that you might think would merely encourage positive, assertive determination were seen to lead to the behaviour of those who know they can get away with things because of their positions of power. I also found the idea that he’d been much more benign until the death of his wife led to his feeling out of control, with all that followed, frighteningly plausible. With nobody calling him on his use of the control to which he was accustomed, his lashing out when he felt its loss was -- yes. It’s also notable that when the Liars start talking about their own mottos, Cady’s - always do what you’re most afraid to do - and Gat’s - take action against evil - turn quickly from apparently positive messages to a bad, bad idea. Mirren is the only one who comes up with something both true and that can be trusted, when she says “be kinder than you need to be”. And maybe these kinds of little observations, and the understanding that Mirren’s motto is the one that stays with us as right, make enough of a point?
In (sort of) conclusion, I disliked almost all of the main characters most of the time, and found the book sad but for the most part in a way that failed to move me. The Twist didn’t work very well at all, though not primarily because I saw it coming (which I mostly didn’t - sometimes it occurred to me but then other things made me think I’d been wrong). Things like this have been done before and often, I think, done better. Mostly it was that there was this big hoop-la of SECRETS! SHOCK! DRAMA!! and then it hinged on a bit of stupidity that was so extreme I couldn’t buy it. That led to the actually interesting insights into certain types of behaviour and personalities being rather buried, especially by the ending’s overwrought prose. So, not a win for me, but not the burning disappointment some others have found it either, and already having a lot of fun discussing with friends who’ve read it. (I’m sure someone will know whether or not the super-rich of Martha’s Vineyard actually call their mothers “Mummy” at 17??) (view spoiler)[ The stupid was the Liars’ idea of dousing the grandfather’s house with gasoline - each taking one floor SIMULTANEOUSLY. Literally that was fatal stupidity, but although they were supposed to have been “a little drunk”, that’s not enough to make the stupidity believable. With that failing to convince me in any way - not that nobody could ever be that stupid, but that these four kids would be in this situation - the question of whether or not the other three’s being ghosts worked became mostly irrelevant. None of the last few chapters was at all strong enough to carry what had been set up earlier, as far as I’m concerned. Except for one thing, which I think she got very right.
That one thing is the blending of fairy tale and “truth” near the end, where the narrative says that in time the tragedy only made the family (especially the three daughters) “ more beautiful still in the eyes of their beholders.” But the remaining children “know that tragedy is not glamorous. [...] Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.” It seems to me that she’s got exactly right the way people come to look on the tragedies of the famous/super-rich/powerful as somehow enhancing their fairy tale beauty. And I think the narrative’s rejection of that tendency to glamourise tragedy is very right too.
Finally, and briefly - did anyone else feel as I did about the dogs? It only really struck me when commenting on Katie’s review that Cady’s reaction when she realised they’d killed the dogs felt very off. In the way that sometimes a character seems no more than a cardboard cutout to be moved into place for tragedy, the dogs seemed to have no real doggy presence at all until their suddenly adorable, trusting golden selves were burned alive. A good thing in one way, as their deaths - given that they didn't commit the stupid in any way - would have been more unbearable if they'd felt at all real. (hide spoiler)]
Reader advisory: don't expect much in the way of objectivity about the book. Forman has plenty of success, and plenty of rave ratings, so I don't feel...moreReader advisory: don't expect much in the way of objectivity about the book. Forman has plenty of success, and plenty of rave ratings, so I don't feel a need to do anything other than explain, if possible, why this missed so badly for me. Any review - any *reading* - is subjective, of course, but along with those usual sensible caveats, I was looking for wisdom here, and that's a more-than-usually subjective matter.
Beth's comment, that she was particularly interested in how I thought this book fit in with Just One Day got me noticing that especially, and part of the problem I have is that the two books fit together quite cleverly. But the authorial tricks and misdirects necessary - or at least those used - to make that fit seem to come too often at the expense of my hoped-for wisdom. There is going to be a degree of spoiling necessary to say anything at all here, but basically, unless you've forgotten the last line of Just One Day (which I totally had!), and miss the byline on the front cover (which reads, on the UK ed anyway, "A breathtaking romance"), you're going to be pretty clear on how it will all end. Still, what I have to say below will make it that bit clearer.
From the first book, we know why Willem abandoned Allyson in Paris (Not His Fault). We know he's good-looking enough to be surrounded by eager and attractive girls wherever he goes, and we know he's far from loath to take advantage of that eagerness. We're supposed to believe that each saw something in the other that was a variant of love at a day's worth of sight (which I actually don't believe at all). So here, we need to be shown Willem growing enough over the year, as Allyson did, for them to be ready to be together. Aside from not believing that either of them was capable of igniting the love-in-a-day, I really disliked the way Forman cleared up some of the jerkiness Willem had seemed to show in the first book. One time it was quite well done - when Willem had disappeared on the train and Allyson had worried he'd gone off, only to find him hanging out with a gaggle of girls he'd known from home, he had actually been looking for a phone number so he could cancel an appointment he had at home, and thus free himself to go to Paris with Allyson. That was fine, and the misdirect about the woman Allyson saw him kissing when she finally tracks him down at home was too. But, and it's a very major "but" for me, most of the clearing away of Willem's bad-boy behaviour is done by making the girlfriends (or ex-gfs, or not-quite-exs, because he IS a jerk still) bitches. See - Céline is a cow, so it doesn't matter that he treated her badly! And hey, it's fine that he's pining over Allyson while being with Ana Lucia just because it's so easy to drift into a relationship with her, since she's also a bitch! This is a very cheap way out of being honest about your male protagonist's persistent habit of using women.
This lack of responsibility is pushed further when we put it together with Willem's family history: his parents met in a similarly fated way, and he both dreads and longs for something like they had. But his emotionally-unavailable mother, and - what, ? maybe he was just totally wrapped up in his marriage, to the detriment of his child? - father (who died a few years before the action of the books), seem to have left him totally vulnerable. (Poor little bad boy is just sad boy, really.) I'm going to have to tread quite lightly here to keep it outside spoiler space, but there is a detail in the first book which I hadn't even noticed (nothing would have made ANY sense without it, but it's rather glossed over, purposefully), which Willem is finally made to acknowledge by Kate (more on her later). This inconvenient fact then seems to be forgiven rather quickly as part of this "I feared and desired their relationship so...". But It. Is. Not. that easily forgivable. He's sorry he did it, yes, but it doesn't cause the kind of reexamination of his moral fibre *I* think it would require. Less vaguery behind spoiler. (view spoiler)[ He took all his stuff with him, while climbing out the window, because he was scared of what he might have found with his "Lulu". Seriously? Even though that meant she was left having kipped unlawfully in a gallery-kind of place, with no money, no French, and no idea how to get back to London? If that's not a thoroughly crappy thing to do to anyone, just because you're scared you've finally slept with someone who meant something to you, and you're too selfish even to part with her decently, I don't know what is. (hide spoiler)]
Finally, I started getting really annoyed about the part Kate played in the narrative. She's fine as a character in herself, but the way Forman uses her as part of the narrative structure, AKA "the universe" - giving Willem what he needs, while keeping him away from Allyson until he's ready, seemed very heavy-handed. He happens to meet her, just as he's given up on finding Allyson in Mexico, and she happens to have everything he needs (the perfect advice, the unavailability, and her professional role, which is crucial when she turns up again at the crucial moment at the end) to set him up as a complete person ready to reunite with Allyson. Too convenient.
Despite having mentioned the "wisdom" I hoped to find in this pair of books, and didn't, I'm not quite sure I can point to things said or done by the characters, or things done narratively, that show its lack. It isn't cynicism, either, really. I honestly don't know how likely I think it is that two young (and both, in different ways, immature for their ages) people could form a real connection in the way these two are supposed to have, in this short a time. I do know that I'd have let a lot more slide, or accepted it happily enough, had I felt even a small part of the response I got so often on reading If I Stay; "Yes, this is just how grief can be. Yes, this is love. Yes, this kind of unselfishness is possible, and impossibly brave, and true." I didn't feel that once in either of these books.
Oops, apparently managed to rate this 1 star, and though I had some gripes,it certainly wasn't *that* bad! Yeah, yeah, when do I not have gripes, righ...moreOops, apparently managed to rate this 1 star, and though I had some gripes,it certainly wasn't *that* bad! Yeah, yeah, when do I not have gripes, right?
A couple of things that put me off: a huge amount was made of what a "good" girl Allyson was, but I think this was totally misleading, as being "good" should mean something very much more than just going along with what your totally overbearing mother has chosen for you and not going out (legally) drinking with the others on the tour of Europe but staying in watching (mostly US) TV. Also, the mother seemed like a Sarah Dessen mother gone caricature. When Alysson went off for her good-girl-image-busting day, I couldn't help think her own dullness should have tipped her off that this incredibly good-looking player might not have been so quick to pay everything for her. But I'm just an old anti-romance crank at heart, right? well, actually no- the whole thing wasn't really romantic, though it had its moments. Second half had more than its fair share of clichés, but also perked up a lot when A got her first job and started to WANT something, finally. Will be reading the next, though I am more than a bit reluctant to get into Willem's head if he proves to be the self-satisfied womanizer type for real.(less)