I've recently signed up to NetGalley
and started requesting galleys. This has turned out to be a great way to discover new fiction, especially by debut authors, but with scant information available on the books aside from a cover and plot summary, I often find myself in the dark about what they're actually going to be like until the galley appears on my Kindle (when browsing in bookshops or online, I often base my choices on what critics have said about the books, or where their best reviews have come from). Beneath the Shadows
is a good illustration of this problem. It's positioned as a gothic mystery in which Grace, a young mother, moves to a remote village on the Yorkshire moors after her husband, Adam, inherits a cottage there. However, shortly after their arrival, Adam disappears without a trace, leaving their baby daughter Millie in her pram on the doorstep. One year later, Grace returns to the cottage, determined to find out what became of her husband.
I made a list of things I didn't like about this book, which I think will serve quite well as my review:
- I really wasn't keen on the narrative style. I'm not really sure how to describe the problem with it, except to say that it reminded me of the stories I used to write when I was a teenager, ie immature/amateurish. There were a lot of infodumps, too many details about the characters' tiniest actions, and I was often confused about what was meant to be going on. Grace also 'bumped into' Ben FAR too often to be plausible - it was literally every time she went out of the house or opened the door. As someone who has grown up and lived most of my life in Yorkshire, the depiction of it in this book made me cringe, especially when the accent was rendered in dialogue. I appreciate that the author was attempting to portray a far more remote area than I am familiar with, but if Roseby was the kind of place tourists would come to rent a holiday cottage, I don't think it would really be as backward as was made out.
- Considering what the plot was meant to be about, Grace really didn't seem all that focused on finding out what happened to Adam. She was constantly deciding to do something or research a particular detail, and then not actually doing it: her 'mission' appeared to be almost half-hearted. The book was more about Grace getting to know Ben, her relationships with her sister Annabel and friend James, and the other villagers' private lives than it was about Adam's disappearance (with the police also seeming oddly disinterested in the case).
- Heavy-handed references to other books, particularly Wuthering Heights
. The protagonist's full name is Grace Lockwood (subtle), Ben is actually described as being 'a Heathcliff', Grace finds a copy of Rebecca
in the cottage and it's often mentioned that she's reading it. Making allusions to these novels doesn't make the book any more similar to them.
- Mistakes in the language: British people, especially in remote Yorkshire villages, do not say 'gotten' or 'klutz' (and would 'stroller' really be their default word for a baby's pram/buggy? I doubt it, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that). Also, the word 'unaccountably' is used in numerous places when the thing being described has an obvious source and isn't 'unaccountable' at all.*
Then again, I probably shouldn't have expected much from something promoted as being 'in the tradition of Rosamund Lupton and Sophie Hannah' - two authors who might be described as average at best, in my opinion. I don't think that's really a standard anyone should be aspiring
Immediately after reading this I gave it a rating of three stars, but having thought more about what I actually made of it and how much the negatives and annoyances outweighed the good things about it, I've had to reduce that to two. The bottom line is, this is a book that can be read in a day, it's reasonably enjoyable and reasonably interesting, and I certainly didn't hate it or anything. But it also has a lot of flaws, and most crucially for me, it isn't the gothic drama it's made out to be - it's more like chick lit with a mystery attached, and if I'd had this impression from the beginning, I doubt I'd have requested it. I liked the ghostly elements and hints of inexplicable events, but these were minor parts of the whole, and there wasn't anywhere near enough suspense.
*I realise the copy I read was a proof and these details may have been changed in the final version. However, they did affect my enjoyment so I think it's fair to mention them.