Bookphile's Reviews > The Cottage at Glass Beach

The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri
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Mar 06, 12

bookshelves: 2012, literary-fiction, arc, amazon-vine
Read from February 28 to March 01, 2012

The Cottage at Glass Beach got off to a very promising start. Fleeing scandal, Nora heads for Glass Beach, where she grew up before her mother's mysterious disappearance. There was a lot of meat to the basic setup of this book: the scorned wife struggling to learn how to make sense of her husband's betrayal, the troubled daughter lashing out at her mother, the remote and atmospheric island with its secrets. Unfortunately, the narrative falls apart about three quarters of the way through the book. Some spoilers will follow.

My first criticism of the book is with the character of Nora. She just feels so inconsistent and wishy washy at times, particularly when it came to her encounters with her cheating husband and with her insolent daughter, Ella. I just found these passages patently impossible to believe. Though she's seething with anger at her husband, their exchanges are, for the most part, very civil. There are a few fights between them, but I just couldn't buy that all that seething anger, hurt, and resentment she was feeling didn't come boiling up, especially because the man had pretty much made a public mockery of her. Likewise, her actions are equally difficult to believe when it comes to her interactions with Ella. Ella says some really awful, hurtful things to her mother and Nora more or less lets her do it. I just could not believe the failure of any spark to ignite in this aspect of the story. Ella says unspeakable things and Nora simply stands there and lets her say them. I understand that the idea was that Nora was trying to keep her opinions about Malcolm's actions to herself, but it seemed to me that it would take a saint to put up with what Nora puts up with. In the end, it just made her character seem too ambivalent. It's as if she spends the entire novel hemming and hawing about everything.

I also have to call this book out for using one of the most tired plot twists in literature: the hero swooping in to rescue the heroine from a threat of sexual assault. I was all but rolling my eyes when I read this portion of the books, because as soon as Nora parked her car in that dark alley before heading into the pub, I knew exactly what was going to follow. I would really like to see this tired trope laid to rest in favor of a more creative method of showing the worth of the potential love interest. Then again, Owen is little more than a character sketch, so I'm not really sure what could have been done with him.

The hints of magical realism also fell flat to me. I don't mind a book with a touch of magic, and have read several that have been well done. However, with this book, there are hints of magic...and that's about it. I don't need everything explicitly spelled out, but more detail was necessary to prod me to suspend my disbelief. Instead, the magical aspects of this book felt woefully underdeveloped and, ultimately, pretty much unnecessary to the plot. This is especially obvious with regard to Ronan. His role seems to serve little purpose other than to give Annie a gift that miraculously saves her from disaster, and also to drop a major bomb about Owen that is then left unresolved. Not to mention that a major plot bomb about Nora's mother is dropped right at the end of the book that I found very confusing rather than clarifying. Everything about this particular aspect of the book just felt half-hearted to me.

Also problematic is Maire and her relationship with her niece and great nieces. They've all effectively known each other for little more than a couple of months before a huge tragedy befalls them. It's not that I think anyone would be indifferent, given the circumstances, but it just did not seem to me that their relationships were developed enough for the tragedy to have the kind of emotional impact it should have had. Instead, it feels like yet another plot device.

It's a shame that things deteriorate as they do. The beginning of the book is lovely, with lots of evocative passages about the island and the ways in which Nora's emotions seem almost in sync with the island's character. Barbieri's writing is quite lovely, but it's not enough to carry the book when stacked against its shortcomings.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Melanie Totally agree with this review, couldn't have said it better myself!


Bookphile Thanks for the comment! I was so disappointed in this book because so much promise was squandered.


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