The term "historical novel" should be used extremely loosely in the case of this book.
I should also note it was no small miracle of will (compulsion)...moreThe term "historical novel" should be used extremely loosely in the case of this book.
I should also note it was no small miracle of will (compulsion) on my part that I was able to grit my teeth and finish this book.
I don't bother with summaries in my reviews as there's always the back/inside cover/sometimes-helpful-blurb-in-the-description-section-on-websites that will likely detail it better. Allow me instead to inform you what this novel is not.
1.) This is not a mystery. We are informed of the killer fairly early on and are dogged with his insipid presence throughout the book through italicized passages. For emphasis, presumably. Being Whitechapel in the year 1889 it should not surprise the reader to find that there is actually more than one murderer afoot. I'll try not to spoil anything (how could I though when they author does it himself so well?) Basically I can only believe that the asinine connection to the Ripper presence was the author's misguided attempt to ride on the Ripper's notorious laurels. It's certainly what drew me in initially when I glanced at the summary of the book.
2.) This ultimately has nothing to do with the Jack the Ripper though boy does the author try. Too hard in my opinion. Why did the author bother? The information he utilized was cursory at best. Maybe he presumed we already knew enough facts about the Ripper (or Saucy Jack as he insisted on calling him, which is fine except it was used like a given name for the Ripper) Except, I'm sorry, I've seen those photographs, I've read the reports, in fact the Ripper interests me greatly so I find I'm unable to suspend my sense of disbelief when you have not one but two characters that have managed to survive (well for a period of time in one case) having their throats slit to the bone. I'll be delving well and deep into the spoiler-y sort of zone if I get too much into it but how does that even make sense? There is so much muscle and sinewy, not to mention, you know, a major artery or two. I understand it is possible to survive having one's throat slit if the cut isn't deep, or isn't both of the major arteries and if the circumstances are right, if help is immediate and stellar. Shall we look at the date again? Shall we look at the district of London this little tale takes place in?
3.) This will not show an accurate picture of Victorian London in 1889. I mean, at this point why even bother setting this in England? I think the author became a little geographically confused, thought himself in New York for all the abundance of brownstones that made their startling appearance. This story, beyond the echoes of the Ripper failure, had no need to be set in London. In fact, I would've been a lot more forgiving if this had been set in say, New York or Boston or Chicago. Certainly the London geography was.... bizarre at best. Not to mention Inspector's wife's obsession with preparing mock turtle soup. Let's not forget the killer commenting on he prefers to abstain from electricity. On his salary it seems unlikely he would ever be able to afford it. Gas lighting I will give.
I think I've warn myself out with all of this griping but I'm sure my point has come across.
As of this moment, I think this will stand as one of the worst, if not the worst books I have read this year. If I could give this a negative 5 star rating I would. A dreary 1-star don't-bother-using-this-book-for-anything-other-than-fire-fodder. Though I only have myself to blame for slogging through this disaster, I hope you will take my advice and read something else.(less)
**spoiler alert** At first I was content to simply hate the protagonist of the story from start to finish.
Then I read the Author's Note at the end and...more**spoiler alert** At first I was content to simply hate the protagonist of the story from start to finish.
Then I read the Author's Note at the end and a few different thoughts struck me:
1.) Why had I even bothered to read the 400+ excruciating pages of regurgitated political history when I could have saved myself the grief by instead reading it faithfully recounted in the aforementioned note. That's 12 succinct pages against 482 meandering (at times standing upon the proverbial soap-box and at others Maribel being tediously self-absorbed) pages. Perhaps the author wanted me to come away with the smoke rings and layers of ash, with something poetic and profound to be found between. No. I think of how much shorter this book would have been--no, how much happier I would have been. Not only does she tell the reader (in case they started drowsing through the previous pages) the entire political journey of the tale but she then goes on to give us the two actual individuals' history whom Maribel and Edward Campbell Lowe were nearly word-perfectly based upon. Now I hate to be irritated with people who've lived and died oblivious to the fractious feelings they'd come to rouse in me over a hundred years later, so I forgive them for providing this author with a wealth of detail that served to culminate in Maribel. Perhaps, in their own lives, they wouldn't have bothered me as much as the author's incarnations. However, this leads to my succeeding thought.
2.) The fact that the author is criticizing the historical woman, Gabriela Cunningham Graham whom fictional Maribel Campbell Lowe is based, and her interest in the esoteric and mysticism. Who is she to say that it is improbable? Many Victorians were very preoccupied with the afterlife, whether believing in it or disproving it. Just because she, the author, considers it mumbo-jumbo doesn't in fact make it any less worthwhile to the woman who lived and breathed it. It seemed to me that the author was dismissive of anything that didn't agree with her own world-view. She even went as far to say on page 494 that she found it "peculiar, even improbable, that a woman who had once summoned the courage to run away from home to go on the stage would in later life succumb to what I considered mumbo-jumbo." Do not underestimate Victorian engrained idea of morality. For all we know, Gabriela might have felt regret and wanted assurance that, once dead, everything would turn out all right, despite any perceived transgressions in her youth. Maybe she wanted forgiveness from someone who had died. Maybe she was curious. Or maybe, being a former actress, an author and therefore perhaps having a romantic or creative or curious bend to her mind. Maybe it was simply that she, possibly being fashionable, wanted to stay abreast of the trends. Maybe she thought it was a jolly good bit of fun. Yet somehow the author dismisses this, almost seeming to me to as though she thereby placed a black mark against Gabriela Cunningham Graham's name, for failing to live up to whatever preconceived expectations she made up. It was as though, to me, she said this is how I'll make Maribel better. Can we tell how much that one sentence from the author aggravated me? If she'd said she wanted to make some changes to Gabriela Cunningham Graham's background to make the story more of a fiction, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash. Instead I had the above, not mentioning even Maribel's vehemence against ghost photography throughout the actual story being jammed down our throats every time she brought out her camera. We got it. Maribel is a non-believer. Check, so please stop being so defensive.
3.) Towards the end of the Note she decided it necessary to bring up the book's title, Beautiful Lies, and in case it wasn't apparent enough to the reader what she was getting at, she spells it out for us. Now she'd already spent a bit of time alluding to life as a stage, to the roles one plays in different situations and even had her characters, Henry and Maribel go so far as to blatantly discuss this on page 475, '... Here they are just actors, aren't they? Players in a flagrantly fictionalised version of their lives' 'Aren't we all?' Oh, okay then. I think a better title would've been Delusions of a Self-Absorbed Woman but clearly I can see it's not quite so catchy.
This leads me to what I hated. I hate that Maribel got away with it all. I wanted that axe of exposure to fall down upon her head (though I'm happy that Gabriela Cunningham Graham escaped such a fate in her lifetime) or maybe, have her throw herself in front of an omnibus to prevent exposure. Something. Maribel always had to get the upper-hand, but it didn't leave me feeling triumphant. Besides that, every other piece of her life was one big drama where she barreled along irregardless of the casualties she was leaving in her wake. Nothing mattered beyond the Great Maribel Show. The closest she got to receiving just desserts was her conversation with the Nun while she was in Spain and maybe Ida's emphatic set-down, though even that played right into Maribel's melodramatic, hand-to-the-forehead tragedies. Why am I plotting against the protagonist? I would've even been happy if she drowned in the loch on the way back in her leaky boat (then again I'm sure she'd turn it into some Lady of Shallot romanticism, so even in that hypothetical non-existent ending I cannot be appeased). I hardly feel those were feelings the author wished to engender in my heart.
Another reviewer alerted me to the abundance of cigarettes so I decided to attempt to record how many references actually made their appearance. Now there may be more as I wasn't counting every time I read the word cigarette but instead counted every mention of a cigarette to when she would start on her second (or third) or mention her overflowing ashtray, or her pressing need to fill her lungs and hold the smoke in. So, in the end, as far as my reckoning goes, the final cigarette count came to: 63 (or 65 in case I missed out on two in the beginning). If I'm doing my math right, that's almost a mention of a cigarette or a need for a cigarette or a graveyard of cigarettes every seven pages. While admittedly there were pages where there was nary a smoky bit of rolled paper to be found, I can recall instances where one page would be littered with cigarettes and her smoking and I can see how that reviewer would find it distracting. What personally bothered me was how she constantly lit up in people's houses without asking anyone if they minded. Even the often socially absent-minded doctor Maturin of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series has the courtesy to ask before lighting up. Maybe that was meant to be another aspect of the character's personality. Now this isn't a rant against smokers as my own father smokes, though he, at least, is considerate about it.
Ultimately, despite this gorgeous cover, I'm profoundly happy I did not waste my money on this book, not in England, not here in America. In fact, I would've been enraged by this point if I had. Instead the library can have it back and in time this will only be a bad memory.
If I could get a negative star, I would give it a negative five. Instead, I must content myself with a 1 star review. If one feels they must give this book a try, read the Author's Note first. Yes, it smells a bit of reading the last chapter before starting the book (something I personally never do and would usually shout out against) but it might save from headaches and skin crawling irritation. I know I certainly wished I'd done that instead. (less)
**spoiler alert** Beware! If, like me, you have been meaning to get around to those Victorian mysteries but haven't had the chance, DO NOT READ THIS B...more**spoiler alert** Beware! If, like me, you have been meaning to get around to those Victorian mysteries but haven't had the chance, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. I've had the plots of Lady Audley's Secret, the Woman in White, and Moonstone just to name a few spoiled for me. Granted they've been in print so long I shouldn't be complaining but, up until this moment, I've been so careful to preserve myself against spoilers! Alas.
That being said, in some ways I almost feel as though this book missed the point. More than the murder case, I felt as though this were a look at detection as a profession, how it developed, how English society looked upon it and how literature was was influenced by it. The murder was almost a side note and even as the author admits herself, I feel that the little victim was lost, forgotten entirely amidst the whodunit. That doesn't mean that this wasn't an interesting read and reminds me a little of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America in that this author also strives to remind the reader of other events that were happening at the same time, a nice way of tying things together from a historical perspective. One can't fault her research (she even looked back at newspapers for weather reports).
All in all, I think I liked this book though it wasn't at all what I expected.(less)
I bought this book thinking that, as I enjoyed the Wondermark comics I might like this as well.
If I could give this a negative rating I w...moreI bought this book thinking that, as I enjoyed the Wondermark comics I might like this as well.
If I could give this a negative rating I would. As it is I think it a miracle I even brought myself to finish this book. If I wasn't part of a book-reading challenge I would've chucked this book across the room a long, long time ago. (less)
Perhaps one of the worst books I've subjected myself to this year. Maudlin, redundant, pointless are words that come to mind when I think of the book....morePerhaps one of the worst books I've subjected myself to this year. Maudlin, redundant, pointless are words that come to mind when I think of the book. I'm only too glad to put it behind me. That's the last book recommendation I take from my mother.(less)
I pretty much reviewed each short story in my updates as I finished them, excepting Sand which was the last of stories in this collection so I guess I...moreI pretty much reviewed each short story in my updates as I finished them, excepting Sand which was the last of stories in this collection so I guess I'll start there. I didn't like it so much, found it terribly difficult to get into, the characters seeming very vague and indistinct to me. I suppose I was also (unfairly) expecting some blockbuster-esque sand dramatics whereas Blackwood is a little bit more subtle/metaphysical/spiritual than what I was hoping for.
Overall, I liked some of the stories (Glamour of the Snow, Ancient Sorceries and Man Who Found Out) and was bored to tears by other of the stories (the Man Whom the Trees Loved and Sand). Mostly (oddly?) I quite liked the footnotes which in some cases afforded a more in-depth look about each piece. (less)
I don't know if I'll be able to convey just how badly written/edited/constructed this book is but boy will I make a valiant effort.
If I could give th...moreI don't know if I'll be able to convey just how badly written/edited/constructed this book is but boy will I make a valiant effort.
If I could give this a negative star-rating I would choose a -10 for "don't-bother-save-yourself-the-trouble/money-and-just-say-NO-before-you-start-banging-your-head-on-the-wall-after-every-chapter". I even had a dream (before I finished the book) about writing a review giving it a negative-star review because, yes, it IS that bad. If I hadn't been participating in a book reading challenge I would've tossed this book into a bonfire after chapter 2 and not persevered with this rubbish.
Which, honestly is a shame. I naively thought, "Hmm, lighthouses, I like lighthouses". Goodbye lighthouse after Chapter 2 (I don't really count the nonsense with Josephine because at that point it became, "Oh, she's not been angsting for five sentences LET'S GIVE HER A REASON TO MOAN ABOUT HER LIFE AGAIN").
Was it necessary for the author to vomit Addie's back-story/mystery/Mary-Sue-character-introduction at us within the first two chapters? Oh, sorry, I guess it WAS necessary to neglect writing a proper mystery set-up when clearly all the author cares about (God aside which I'll get to later), was the ridiculous romance between John and Addie where, naturally, the first moment they lay eyes upon one another they're in love. Does the author, at least, show us how these two people could fall in love? Does the author bother to show us how and why the reader should like her characters? The answers are no and no. Most of the cast are two-dimensional at best and I'm sorry to say we are generally told what to think about the main characters. Addie is an "angel in skirts" but are we truly shown any outstandingly angelic behavior on her part? No and no, I do not count the arbitrary/unnecessary mother-of-five-has-consumption-woe-child-labor-in-1907 episode on the grounds that it was so obviously contrived (and utterly left-field in its bizarre placement). Is John really anything beyond the physical impulses Addie stirs in him (and what's the point of giving him a dead wife if all she does is serve as a point of comparison, oh, did we mention his wife is Addie's half-sister/cousin, daughter of her mother's half-sister and therefore her half-aunt/step-mother)?
Anyway, before I derail any further into churlish commentary, the author neglects developing her characters in favor galloping into the lack-luster arms of the romance. In fact, EVERYTHING she set up in those first two horrifically convoluted chapters takes a back-burner. Epileptic child is neglected in favor of the romance, pony and horse are neglected in the random horseback riding scene (Oh yes, let's not forget the "thankyousomuch for almost killing my child on a run away pony, it taught him to be brave" scene because clearly someone's not read Gone With the Wind and seen how that pony scene goes down) and estranged Dad, well, sorry Mr Eaton, you just get systematically turned into a stereotypical petty villain.
That aside, I still thought, "Hmm, she's got some nice minute detail in here about the historical period".
Does it make up for her glaring and sometimes contradictory continuity errors? Does it make up for her grammatical errors? Does it make up for the terrible transitions that make me wonder "what was the point of you writing out that scene if each interaction was a sentence long and you just breezed through three different people"? Is that worth wanting to gouge my eyeballs out every time John/Addie decide to talk about how wonderful/attractive/insert-syrupy-adjective-here the other is? I honestly started feeling like I was reading Twilight at times with all the ridiculous mooning.
Also the God-issue. Was it really-truly-ABSOLUTELY necessary to throw in God and her Faith every five seconds? I've read plenty of Victorian novels written by preachers' daughters and other Christian authors that have managed to get across the moral-point and not had to resort to flaunting weirdly and jarringly placed God-conversations/observations/questions-to-God. Or the mind-boggling fact that one of the characters then started saying "God might be punishing someone so, don't intervene".... Excuse me, WHAT? Are we now manipulating Faith for plot-points, to justify the characters bizarre behavior? She keeps going on and on about her faith but I'm still questioning the ramifications of her STEALING PROPERTY, DECEIVING, oh, sorry, God's on her side (because she asked him five seconds ago, dontcha know) so it's okay that the characters just committed the time-period equivalent of grand-theft-auto.
I could go on. Seriously. But I won't. Please, save yourself from this grandiose waste of time and just don't bother with this book.(less)