I can't really judge this book on character development or plot, since I only read the kindle sample which, though much longer than typical, admittedl...moreI can't really judge this book on character development or plot, since I only read the kindle sample which, though much longer than typical, admittedly can't showcase an author's strength in these areas. What I did read, however, gave me no confidence that the author would be capable of furthering her ideas of corporate time-travel, which seem derivative of "Doomsday Book, In the Garden of Iden, or Up the Line, mashed-up uneasily with romance-y type works such as Outlander or The Time Traveler's Wife. Maybe "derivative" is being a bit hard on the author as there is nothing new under the sun, and no idea that hasn't been used before. I will say, since I have read all of these other novels, that Ridgeway's book is by far the most poorly written, with stilted, simplistic sentences larded with descriptions of flashing eyes, flaring nostrils, and dastardly cousins; it is difficult to believe that the author is a college professor, as the first chapters are written on the sixth grade level. Her historical background, too, seems very thinly researched, as if she thumbed through one of Johanna Lindsey less-inspired offerings, and caught a glimpse of the words "cravat", "earldom", and "carriage" as the pages flashed past.
So maybe I am being unfair, but the scene that made me realize that this book could not be taken seriously was Nick's mother's actions after Nick's father dies in a riding accident. It seems to me that there are several realistic ways a human being, and not an inhabitant of Romance Land, would react to witnessing such a tragedy:
1) Race to the broken body of her spouse and call for aid, even though the situation looks hopeless. 2) Stand there in shock (or secret satisfaction, depending on the state of the marriage) and do nothing at all. 3) Faint or fall into hysterics. 4) Calmly realize that her husband is dead and, with a great deal of mental and physical effort, get the people around her to move the body.
What I CANNOT imagine is the new widow PRYING OFF THE RING from the finger of the still warm corpse of her husband, strolling over to her teenage son, handing him the ring, and CURTSEYING almost down to the ground. Really, now--who would do such a thing in real life? Did the author get confused and think that her book was set in a minor caliphate in a fantastic realm? I mean, come on. Could you imagine Jane Austen writing such a scene?
I'd like my characters in what is passed off as non-genre literature to behave like real human beings. Of course, if it is a romance novel you're writing, go right ahead and compose such a silly interlude. Knock yourself out. I might even enjoy it, if I were in the mood for such a thing and knew exactly what I was getting.
My feelings might change, of course, and I might try again, which is why this is not a DNF for me. I doubt it, however. The riding-accident incident hinted of worse things to come. And if you did like it, or think that I am just being hard on the book...well, that's fine. But you might prefer Kage Baker, who died far too young, if you like this sort of genre hybrid.(less)
Wow. I really was disappointed by this book, and was surprised by my own reaction, which was very different from most of my GR friends.
There were many...moreWow. I really was disappointed by this book, and was surprised by my own reaction, which was very different from most of my GR friends.
There were many reasons why I wasn't moved, either emotionally or intellectually, by Llewellyn's novel. To begin with, I knew, of course, that he wasn't really Welsh; that he committed a fraud (and I don't think I'm being too harsh here) by insisting all his life that he was born in Wales, and was raised in Wales and only educated in England. Other readers, of course, can--and do--view the children of immigrants as having a special insight into the culture of the parents which can be a satisfactory substitute for direct knowledge. I don't myself; perhaps it is because I am the child and grandchild of immigrants, and I am acutely aware of how much I really don't grasp. I don't know if I would have been so acutely conscious of how second- hand most of the information that Llewelyn was passing on; I would like to think so. As it was, only the music and the food (the bits of culture that the immigrant can most easily pass on to the child) felt authentic to me. (Yes, I would like to sample some brandy broth!) That--and the descriptions, towards the end, of the house being slowly suffocated in slag. That felt real, too. But no, I am sorry, so much of the book seemed self-conscious and rather false to me; a Mrs Miniver tinged "A Million Little Pieces".
That sounds tough, I know, and I think another reason I'm being so critical is that I'm judging this book, naturally enough, by the books I've read just before this one. I've been doing an around the world book challenge, and I've been trying to read my books in geographic order. Well, most authors would suffer in comparison with Dylan Thomas (a true poet who makes Llewelyn's sing-songy efforts look rather flat); or Flaubert, whose cool and precise description of exactly what effects arsenic has on the body horrified me, (whereas Llewelyn's descriptions of the starving miners seem blurred and cliched, and left me completely unmoved.) Maybe it's unfair to compare this author to two of the masters of world literature, but I also read The Book of Ebenezer le Page and Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show: A Novel of Ireland during the same time period. When Edwards told me the type of tomatoes that would grow best on Guernsey, I knew I could trust him; when Frank Delaney would stop his tale and explain the mores of 1930's rural Ireland, I had faith that he was telling me the truth, as much as anyone can be trusted to resurrect the thought patterns of a vanished time.
Historical fiction, which I love, is a tricky thing. There's always a filter of the writer's time period, always, always, no matter how much the author tries to rid themselves of their own mind-set. With "How Green is My Valley", I was always conscious that there were two filters; my own, and Llewellyn's 1930 sensibilities. Again, if I thought this book really excellent, I could accept that, and I would find Llewellyn's world outlook, influenced by the imminent outbreak of WWII, interesting in its own right. But the figures are so trite, all stiff-yet-trembling-upper lip. The Mary-Sue sister-in- law that Huw, the protagonist, is in love with, with laughter always in her eyes. The fiery brother. The stalwart father. The mother who is so proud of her cooking. They are all figures out of a John Ford movie--which indeed he did film, as soon as possible--and which, weirdly, I could NOT get out of my head, even though I've never seen that particular Ford picture. Up and down the mountain the mountain they were going, singing always. I felt constantly manipulated; and yes, it is the author's job to manipulate the reader, but you've got to trust the author, you've got to feel that you are in good hands. And I didn't. Not for a moment.
One of the things that really bothered me was the emphasis on fighting. Yes, it was a tough time, and there was very little law, apparently, in that era and place; that wasn't the problem for me. It was quite obvious, too, that LLewellyn got a real thrill out of writing those scenes; there is a nasty boxing match is particular that is described in great detail, though it is completely extraneous to the course of the novel. What bugged me was that Huw's not-taking-anything-from-anybody's stance was never explored, but glorified. OK; that's fine, too, but let's be honest here: Huw's pugnacious attitude, which caused him to (view spoiler)[ be thrown out of school right before he was to take entrance exams (hide spoiler)] and (view spoiler)[ had him arrested when he beat up someone who was making "remarks" about his sister (hide spoiler)] and (view spoiler)[ had him fired from every job he ever held (hide spoiler)] circumscribed, if not actually blighted his life. You're kidding yourself if you think that (view spoiler)[ ending up as a collier or a woodworker--and what was that BS about not accepting that bread-and-butter-work of making coffins? Please. (hide spoiler)] was the best outcome for Huw, especially since in reality the effects of having a bone-shattering accident would have lingered throughout his life. It's easy to put the proudly self-sufficient working-by-the-sweat-of-his-brow honest laboring man on a pedestal, if you don't actually have to DO the work. Like Llewellyn.
I can't say that I was particularly thrilled by the audio book format. It wasn't bad, but I've listened to two audio books set in Wales this year; neither of the first-person narration was done by someone from the country. This would never be seen as acceptable for a book set in Scotland or Ireland nowadays. Why is it OK to fake a Welsh accent? It seems more than a bit of a slight to the culture.
I was wavering between two and three stars, until I came across the passage, describing Huw's first kiss:
"The softness of her mouth was a glory of surprise, and cool, not even warm, with an easiness of moisture, and the tip of her tongue making play in idle strolling, lazily, and yet full of life, and her weight lying heavily upon me, her hair falling about our faces, shutting out the light, and all other smells save that of her, that was the perfume of the broad, sweet lands of the living flesh, that rose from her, and covered her about and followed her as she walked."
Fraudulent author; all right. Cardboard characters; OK. A macho glorification of violence; go right ahead. But bad sex writing--well, there are some things that I just can't accept.
Norfolk's novel is beautifully presented as a physical object, with a striking cover and lovely woodblock prints. The depiction of the 17th century ki...moreNorfolk's novel is beautifully presented as a physical object, with a striking cover and lovely woodblock prints. The depiction of the 17th century kitchen is fascinating, too. There's many sensual details, whether it's the slick feel of the greasy troughs that the scullery boys must scrape out as they clean the plates, or the spit and hiss of the juice dripping from a pig as it is slowly turned over the fire. The reader really gets a feel of the military precision in which a kitchen of that era was run. Pity it's welded to an utterly banal plot that either slows to a crawl or skims too fast, and with many jolting shifts in time and point-of-view to add to the headache. Wild-eyed fanatical puritans and drunken, cowardly suitors without a smidgen of grey--you'll find them here, too. There's the usual nonsense of (view spoiler)[ the almost-raped virgin tumbling into bed with her rescuer mere moments after the assault (hide spoiler)] and some poorly-explained mystical tosh about a long-lost feast from the people from the hollow hills that the main character wishes to regain. Or something.(less)
This review is giving me fits! I've been thinking about it for days, and my deadline for my GR book group challenge is almost here: the following is p...more
This review is giving me fits! I've been thinking about it for days, and my deadline for my GR book group challenge is almost here: the following is part of my stalling tactic/chat with my fellow members that I've substituted for, you know, actually writing the review:
Me: I am really having a hard time approaching this review. The Alienist vs. The Gods of Gotham smackdown? Analysis of the plot structure and the demands of a satisfying mystery? The problems of anachronisms--most disturbingly, of out-of-time characters? Pretty language too often tipping over into "rosy-fingered" mush? I write very slowly, and as I have to leave in a few hours, I don't think I'm going to get my bloated kitty badge. :(
From Jane: Here you go:
I read _____. I gave it ___ stars, because of the plot structure, anachronisms, out-of-time characters, and pretty language that devolves into "rosy-fingered" mush.
Me: Thanks, Jane!
So, I am taking Jane's advice. Here you go, Janice:
This novel, which received so much attention last summer, deserves more time than I can give it just now. There's much to admire here--some great language (including the use of underworld "flash"), gritty details, and a complicated denoument, which may satisfy some readers--and frustrate others. But there's a big old problem in the middle of the novel, and it's called (view spoiler)[ Mercy. Not lower-case mercy, as in quality of, but Mercy, the woman.
And for the smackdown? I give the nod to "The Alienist."