while this was a good read, it wasn't the great read i was hoping for -- i believe my expectations were inflated by strong reviews, award nominations,while this was a good read, it wasn't the great read i was hoping for -- i believe my expectations were inflated by strong reviews, award nominations, and other gushings i've read. i also struggled with the pace surrounding smith's big reveal.
a strong review in the guardian touched on the frustration i felt while reading:
There is a tricky and perhaps dubious kind of suspense in fiction that depends on withholding information from the reader even though it is known to the protagonist. It can be a simple device to keep the pages turning in an action thriller ... Or it can be the mystery behind a whole book, which may depict all sorts of thoughts in the central character’s consciousness – except his secret purpose, withheld until the end ... The novel won’t tell us until the very final pages. Opinions will differ about whether this is acceptable manipulation or just cheating. But then fiction is cheating to begin with – a fact often remarked upon by the novels of the 18th century that invented the modern form.
as i was reading, i felt i would have appreciated the story more knowing smith's secret from the beginning. this may have served to add more depth and nuance to the story. as it is, the story certainly rollicks along, but it's fairly surface entertainment. while i enjoyed the era and the liveliness of new york that spufford brought to the page, i didn't feel that smith's 'mysterious' character was truly evident, beyond his 'man with a secret' status. i found the storyline of septimus and achilles interesting and would gladly read an entire novel about them.
things i appreciated about this novel: ∙ where the moral centres of the story appeared and were reflected; those strong enough to standoh boy. so....
things i appreciated about this novel: ∙ where the moral centres of the story appeared and were reflected; those strong enough to stand apart from the mob were needed and well done; ∙ the mood backman created - dark, simmering; ∙ the so many fringes upon which the characters and community existed;
thing that made this a less than pleasant book to read: ∙ the repetitive writing - more specifically, in relation to characters where traits and histories were repeated; ∙ the ending was untidy, and while we were shown some of the characters' futures, many were left off; ∙ for all the importance of the subject matter, i was left feeling things were very surface a lot of the time
thing that sat with me uncomfortably: ∙ in the #MeToo age, the novel is topical. and it was an interesting exercise reading a male author's portrayal of a female rape victim's experience. backman clearly depicts the machinations of female victim blaming, in all it's vile ugliness. (my discomfort was not the subject matter, though tough. but, rather, that i was reading a female character's experience through the filter of a male author.)...more