Well, in the end I began this book with more enthusiasm than I ended up. It definitely promised more than it delivered, on all counts: suspense (story...moreWell, in the end I began this book with more enthusiasm than I ended up. It definitely promised more than it delivered, on all counts: suspense (storyline falls flat half-way through), emotions (we never really get much insight into Patrick's character, for example) and even Kenya. While I quite enjoyed the first half, the 'set up', really able to visualize Kenya, a place I'll likely never visit and which, to be honest, I know little about and have never felt much interest in, after the so-called 'accident' I felt myself losing interest.
The book is billed as "Two couples brought together... Four lives torn apart" but this in and of itself also promises far more than the reality, a sort of Jodi Picoultesque drama of immense proportions that in the end changes all lives. Here, it's not the case. The story is set in the late 1970s, and Shreve does an excellent job of portraying the tone and feel of that time--I've read many, many novels from the 60s and 70s, and this one could easily have been written then and come off authentically. The relationship between protagonist Margaret, for example, and her husband Patrick, who are both in their late 20s is entirely different to what we'd read today about a twnetysomething couple--most whom wouldn't even be married yet! The POV is Margaret's--an apparently happy, well-adjusted, middle-class American girl (Boston, Mass) recently married to Patrick, a doctor, whom she has followed to Kenya while he pursues his doctorate research. Both seem entirely out of place in the wilds of Africa, as well as amid the other 1970s expatriates, mostly colonial-type Europeans. At the start of the novel they're living temporarily with their landlords, Arthur and Diana, a very colonial-type Brit couple in their 30s whose descriptions at times veer into caricature. For some reason (not well explained and not entirely believable), this couple persuades the younger one to join friends of theirs (an also caricaturesque couple, this time Dutch) on a climb to one of the highest mountains--even though Margaret neither enjoys these excursions nor has the experience for them. Why do they go? What's the point? I never truly found out.
Furthermore--or, worse--Shreve coats the entire expedition with a sense of urgency and importance that I never believed. I just couldn't get my head around why it mattered so much, or why a young recently married idealist very American couple like Margaret and Patrick would be lured into this, would already display fractures in their relationship, apparently as a result of the other couples' influences. It neither made sense nor was appropriately exposed, to be believed. The descriptions of nature, environment, surroundings, etc along the way to the climb are shrouded in a sort of mythical suspense--but why? In the end, towards the end of the climb, Margaret--easily the slowest and weakest, and therefore slowing and weakening everyone else--has been relegated to a sort of pariah role (why? this would make sense if they'd been on a sort of life-or-death situation where it really mattered) even by Patrick--who increasingly becomes more and more annoying a character, all without much motive or explanation. Then as a result of one instance that drives her to the edge (will not give away details) she can't find Patrick for support (supposedly, though he's only a few feet away) and instead leans 'inappropriately' on Arthur--who, until then, seems to have been placed in the story as comic relief! But that seemed ok for a while, because Shreve did quite a good job of softening Arthur's caricaturesque edges and showing a more humane side. I'd been content to leave it there. Instead, Shreve plunges you with a hammer on all the 'meanings' this little incident had (even though till then from Margaret's POV Arhtur had only been annoying and paternalistic) and its dire consequences. Apparently, tough old bird Diana couldn't bear to let Arthur out of her sight and, incensed, continued the climb recklessly. This is where the 'accident' comes in. A not entirely believable accident, either.
The second half of the book disperses with the Brit couple altogether and focuses on Margaret's and Patrick's marriage. Here, to be honest, I started to get bored. I had less and less insight into this marriage and therefore felt less and less interest in its ultimate and obvious unraveling.(less)
As a formidable exponent of the so-called Birt 'Aga Sagas' I really enjoyed Trollope's first efforts: they were insightful, well-characterized and at...moreAs a formidable exponent of the so-called Birt 'Aga Sagas' I really enjoyed Trollope's first efforts: they were insightful, well-characterized and at times even moving, al within a slightly soap-operaish middlebrow context. But slowly, with fame (and fortune?), her writing grew lazier, her characters weaker and her context less believable and more formulaic. Since I mostly received these as readers--and since, I'll admit, I still get snippets of guilty glee from them--I'll probably keep on reading them, but I won't pay for them again, that's for sure!(less)
Erica James is a slight read, and yet also nearly always an immeasurable pleasure. Her stories are grounded in a narrow circle and, though her writing...moreErica James is a slight read, and yet also nearly always an immeasurable pleasure. Her stories are grounded in a narrow circle and, though her writing is less than great (for a pre editor, there are cringe-worth moments), her characters are nearly always believable. More importantly, you believe the author's voice--you believe that she believes what she is writing about, and cares about her characters. So that you want to care, too.
This isn't her strongest. The whole Tsunami thing didn't work for me because I felt it to be rather gratuitous (it could also, say, have been 9/11) and though her author's explanatory not at the end was interesting, it still didn't convince me that she a) had anything very personal or original to say about the tragedy or b) that the tragedy itself really had left such a huge psychological or emotional impact on her characters--or, even, their story. I pretty much feel that the ways she set it up, the story could have been the same--unchanged--without the Tsunami in the background.
Another problem I had was that I found Sally entirely unappealing, despite how hard James works to show her in light of her awful growing up. It still does little to redeem her qualities, or to excuse the appalling amorality with which she conducts her affair. I can buy, say, that a career-obsessed modern woman may not have a huge lot of 'natural' maternal instincts. I can't buy, however, that once her son is born and the bulk of his care is on her husband's shoulder--therefore, leaving her to only enjoy him--she'd be as callous and unfeeling as James depicts her. A woman like that shows such a huge lack of empathy that a part of her must be sick and/or psychotic.
I also wasn't thrilled by GP (Clare) and vicar (Seth) romance. Seth is too cookie-cutter romance novel material and it strains belief that a true agnostic/atheist such as Clare would really envision the rest of her life with a man of the cloth.
Lastly, there was a sort of judgmental thread throughout the book in regards to abortion that, in this day and age, was less than thrilling.
So in all, not my favorite Erica James book, but still a warm read and glad to have read it. She still has a special touch and I always look forward to her novels.(less)
Bookclub selection--for my 'light reading' group of women friend readers but, still, sometimes you wonder what people are thinking when they make cert...moreBookclub selection--for my 'light reading' group of women friend readers but, still, sometimes you wonder what people are thinking when they make certain choices! I'd sort of liked Noble's previous books, within their range, never expecting too much from them, but this one was a silly read. Set up like one of those UK soap operas and with so many characters and storylines that each merited a book on its own. Plus, I never really bought into the characters, and not for once did I believe the American ones who, most of the time, sounded and behaved suspiciously British! It's one of those things I don't get, why lately the UK is so mirror-obsessed with the US and why so many of these glamour-type writers move off to NYC and then start writing from American POVs! American men, for instance (and I speak as an American who's dated American men) would never tell a woman "you're lovely" and especially not in NYC!(less)