Nov 21, 09
Recommended to K by:
Extremely polarized goodreads reviews
Very uncritical readers seeking an entertaining novel
First, a quick summary in case anyone reading this review doesn’t know the basic premise of the novel: Just after WWII, 33-year-old writer Juliet Ashton, enjoying the success of her first book and suffering writer’s block, discovers a group of people living on Guernsey, a British island occupied by the Nazis during the war. After being caught in violation of curfew during the occupation and needing an alibi, the Guernsey natives pretended to have been participating in a book club meeting. The natives ended up forming a real book club that continued meeting even after the war, composed of a variety of offbeat characters who begin corresponding with Juliet and charming her. Juliet ends up visiting Guernsey, getting to know the book club members, and writing about them.
This book combined the situation of “Suite Francaise,” the heroine (and some plot devices) of “Love Walked In,” the epistolary style of “84 Charing Cross Road,” and the theme of “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.” As I read it, my cynical reader battled with my forgiving reader in a running dialogue.
Cynical reader: Juliet is one ANNOYING chick. The new Mary Sue – on top of all her other wonderful qualities, we give her personality by making her witty! And charming! And cute! And everyone loves her! Unless they’re miserable people with no sense of humor! And don’t we all wish we were her!
Forgiving reader: Oh, come on. Okay, so Juliet is a bit much. But the book’s not bad. You’re still reading, aren’t you?
Cynical reader: And that story about her broken engagement! Give me a fat break! Yeah, like someone as intellectually curious as Juliet is supposed to be would actually get as far as engagement with a guy who would then move out all her books in favor of his sports trophies. And fail to understand why that’s a problem for her. Oh, THAT’s believable.
Forgiving reader: Yeah, I’ll give you that one. A little too much effort to show us how important books are to Juliet, when we probably could have figured it out some subtler way.
Cynical reader: Subtlety was definitely not this book's strong point. And what’s with all these books about people finding redemption through books anyway? Daniel said this better than I will, so here’s a quote from his review of “The Book Thief:”
“Yes, we all love books and believe them valuable -- we wouldn't be readers of this book or any other if we didn't -- but reading doesn't solve everything. The escapism offered by literature is wonderful if you're trying to get away from your dreary job or the drudgery of school, but I find it unlikely it'll make you forget the bombs falling on your neighborhood if you're living in a country at war… I'm just getting sick of all these recently published books telling me how great books are. I know that already. Television shows don't feel a need to keep telling me how fantastic television is, and movies don't keep reminding me that movies are really wonderful, so books don't need to be so defensive either. Just be a really good book, then I'll remember how great literature is.”
Amen, Daniel. At first I really liked novels like “The Thirteenth Tale” and “Shadow of the Wind” which affirmed my love for books, but the theme is getting old. And all these Guernsey farmers suddenly finding fulfillment through literature? Huh? And with such a limited selection of books? I mean, how come none of them ever finds any of the few available books boring, or over their heads?
Forgiving reader: Maybe having fewer books to choose from forces you to read and appreciate books that you’d normally view as too challenging.
Cynical reader: I’m in that situation, thank you very much. Read – yes. Appreciate – not necessarily.
Forgiving reader: And maybe you shouldn’t be so critical of an author’s full-length novel if you can’t even write a review without quoting someone else’s. Just a thought.
Cynical reader: Yeah, I do feel a little guilty. Especially since, with all my gripes, I’m still reading.
Forgiving reader: Yes – for all your criticism, I don’t see you abandoning the book. You, with your ironclad 50-page limit for books you’re not enjoying.
Cynical reader: True. It’s not quite bad enough to put down. But maybe I’m just seeking more material for my review.
Forgiving reader: Or maybe you’re seeing what some of your friends saw – that it’s a light, enjoyable read and that sometimes it’s worth suspending some critical thought in favor of just enjoying a book for what it is.
Cynical reader: You know, I just can’t decide whether this is one of those times. I mean, I loved “Water for Elephants.” Then I read all these goodreads reviews pointing out, aptly, that the romance was too unbelievable and whatnot. And I had a similar experience with “Outlander,” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” But I still loved reading those books, despite the legitimate criticism out there.
Forgiving reader: So maybe this book could be in that category. And remember – with those other books, you read the negative reviews AFTER you’d already enjoyed them and formed your impressions. In this case, the negative reviews may have prejudiced you.
Cynical reader: True. All the same, I’m not loving this one. I guess I’ve read books I’ve hated more than this one, but this book definitely has more than its fair share of eye-rolling moments and not a lot of compensatory factors. And I’m finding it way too emotionally manipulative.
Forgiving reader: I feel myself getting weaker…
Cynical reader: I mean, I really can’t stand child characters who are simply miniature Mary Sues modeled after Shirley Temple, so obviously designed to tug at your heartstrings. I have four kids of my own, okay? Where’s the whining? Where are the tantrums? And here, this kid has absent parents and what has to be inconsistent upbringing as various community members share the responsibility for her care – how can she be consistently endearing? Oh – and the one time when she’s rude, it’s because she’s the only one who sees through the evil villain.
Forgiving reader: …and weaker…
Cynical reader: I thought Juliet was bad, but Elizabeth is way larger-than-life. Does she ever do anything that's less than heroic? And I’m getting a little tired of piles upon piles of charming oddball characters who seem quaint and cute at first but, in the final analysis, are pretty superficially drawn, not to mention repetitive. And don’t even get me started on the sudden appearance of graphic holocaust scenes. You KNOW how I feel about that.
Forgiving reader: You can’t give it just one star, though. You did finish it. And it was readable. And even if you didn’t like it much, it didn’t demand a whole lot from you so you can’t really complain.
Cynical reader: Okay, two stars. I didn’t hate it, exactly. And I can see where it might work as a light, quick read for someone who’s in the mood for something sentimental and not too taxing.