Violet wells's Reviews > Far to Go

Far to Go by Alison Pick
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bookshelves: 21st-century, booker, world-war-two, historical-fiction

I was enjoying this until I realised the author was writing a different novel to the one I wanted to read, was following characters I wasn't interested in. There were clues early on that this was going to go off the rails when an overwrought narrator kept interrupting the wartime narrative to speak in the first person. However, these interludes were short so it was easy to ignore them and hope for the best. What interested me initially was she focused on two characters who were potentially dangerous to the Jewish family at the heart of this novel. Almost always in Holocaust novels the author concentrates on the good guys and makes little effort to depict the bad guys with any insight. They're just plain evil as if that's all we need to know. For a long stretch of this novel I thought the author was going to give us the bad guys. Marta is the housekeeper of a wealthy Jewish family in the Sudetenland. She's having an affair with the pernicious foreman of her employer's fabric factory. She's not a bad person but she's resentful, uneducated, emotionally unstable, easily influenced and clearly dangerous to the wellbeing of the Jewish family that employs her. Most of the considerable tension of the early part of the novel is provided by the volatile whims of these two characters. We're dealing with the banality of evil.

Then at a certain point a lot of melodramatic domestic stuff happens - the mother, who now takes over from Marta as the villain of the piece and is incoherent throughout the book, sleeps with a Nazi and Marta sleeps with her ward's father. The novel's focus undergoes a sea change. This becomes still more evident when the narrative abandons the family and instead follows the young son on his journey to England as part of the kindertransport programme. Here I utterly lost interest. The tone became sentimental, the artistry clumsy. There then follows a long section in the first person that reveals the entire wartime narrative is artifice. I'm afraid I didn't find this clever. I found it annoying. A very cheap trick. The novel became mainstream cinema - no matter how much bad stuff happens the end will make you feel a bit better about everything.

There's a scene early on in this book where a group of youths beat a Jewish tailor to death and I wondered why authors never try to get inside the heads of these characters. It's easy to imagine the good guys. Far more challenging would be to investigate the bad guys. The bad guy in this novel simply disappears when the plot no longer needs him. He's nothing but a convenient plot device to add tension.
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Reading Progress

February 16, 2018 – Started Reading
February 16, 2018 – Shelved
February 16, 2018 – Shelved as: 21st-century
February 16, 2018 – Shelved as: booker
February 16, 2018 – Shelved as: world-war-two
February 16, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
February 26, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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Jaidee I'm hoping Pepik melts your heart :)


Violet wells Jaidee wrote: "I'm hoping Pepik melts your heart :)"

Anything but, Jaidee! I lost interest when he took over the novel.


Jaidee Awwww sorry it didn't work for you Violet. You still gave it a 3 so there were some aspects you liked or tolerated !!

I really liked this book and think of it still especially little Pepik !


message 4: by Steven (new)

Steven Godin I hate writing three star reviews, finding the right balance between praise and criticism is not always easy. The middle part of your review really sticks the knife in!.


Violet wells Jaidee wrote: "Awwww sorry it didn't work for you Violet. You still gave it a 3 so there were some aspects you liked or tolerated !!

I really liked this book and think of it still especially little Pepik !"


I really liked the first 200 pages!


Violet wells Steven wrote: "I hate writing three star reviews, finding the right balance between praise and criticism is not always easy. The middle part of your review really sticks the knife in!."

Yep, they're not much fun, especially when they're books few people have heard of because you have to go into detail that's of little interest to everyone who hasn't read it. I was riveted for the first 200 pages but the final third was a one star job for me.


message 7: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala When you question an author's intentions, Violet, you do it in a very thought-provoking way. I like that.


Violet wells Fionnuala wrote: "When you question an author's intentions, Violet, you do it in a very thought-provoking way. I like that."

Thanks Fi. I guess it's not her fault if her intention was to write a novel I didn't want to read. I was tricked by the Booker endorsement into believing this was more literary than it is. The irony for me is she's more than capable of writing a riveting wartime page turner. It was when she tried to be clever that it stopped working for me. The dual WW2 narrative with a crowd-pleasing denouement has become such a clichéd format. My most popular review here is an assault on The Nightingale which deploys a similar tactic except it does it better and with more craft. Alison Pick though can write much better than Kristin which made the grand plan of this book especially disappointing to me.


message 9: by Cheri (new)

Cheri A wonderfully thought out and thoughtfully written review, Violet! Sounds very disappointing!


message 10: by Angela M (new) - added it

Angela M Sorry it was disappointing, Violet. It’s on my list but it’s always a dilemma when some friends love it and some don’t.


Violet wells Cheri wrote: "A wonderfully thought out and thoughtfully written review, Violet! Sounds very disappointing!"

Thanks Cheri.


Violet wells Angela M wrote: "Sorry it was disappointing, Violet. It’s on my list but it’s always a dilemma when some friends love it and some don’t."

It was okay, Angela. Nothing special though. Tried to be a bit too clever for my liking.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

y're shortlisted on the reviewer's equivalent to the man booker.


Violet wells paulie wrote: "y're shortlisted on the reviewer's equivalent to the man booker."

Ha ha! Thanks Paulie. A lot of hot competition around though.


message 15: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Violet wrote: "It's easy to imagine the good guys. Far more challenging would be to investigate the bad guys."

I agree...far more fascinating. An excellent critique, Violet.


Violet wells Carol wrote: "Violet wrote: "It's easy to imagine the good guys. Far more challenging would be to investigate the bad guys."

I agree...far more fascinating. An excellent critique, Violet."


Thanks Carol. I wish now and again an author wouldn't take the easy route when writing about the Holocaust. Sometimes it's like they can only imagine themselves. I'd like an author to take on the far more difficult challenge of getting into the head of the bad guys.Not so much the psychopaths as the ordinary people who ended up committing unforgivable acts. In the book I'm reading at the moment about the Warsaw Ghetto there are Poles who throw stones over the wall. What motivates someone to add further misery to a people already suffering unendurable hardships? I'd like to read about such people, at least in the hands of a very accomplished writer.


message 17: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Violet wrote: "What motivates someone to add further misery to a people already suffering unendurable hardships?"

It's a mystery to me too, Violet. Our current president spews ugly rhetoric; and, a direct result is an increase in hate crimes targeted against African and Latin Americans, Jews and Muslims. No Holocaust yet...but the seeds, I sometimes fear.


Elyse Walters I never heard of this book.. some of it sounds good. but my mind much more simple ( maybe more shallow and mainstream lol.. soooo embarrassing to say this)..,
BUT... whew!!! NOT ALWAYS...
sometimes my critical brain kicks in...
I fully agreed with you about The Nightingale though!!!

You’re just too great for words Violet!! Going back to sleep now 💕💕


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "I never heard of this book.. some of it sounds good. but my mind much more simple ( maybe more shallow and mainstream lol.. soooo embarrassing to say this)..,
BUT... whew!!! NOT ALWAYS...
sometimes..."


You wrote a fabulous five star review of it! https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Bears out my misgivings though if you've completely forgotten it!


Elyse Walters Awww such a great 2nd morning sleep!!! ..
Haha!!! Oh... NOW... I remember it...
I remember it WELL.... ( haha)...
AND ... I can see what you say about the bad guys disappearing when not needed anymore. I hadn’t even thought of that.

But I ‘do’ remember feeling the raw emotions -
That these stories happened at all... the tragedy so horrific and the gut blessings in the midst of hell.
But hey your 3 star rating actually pretty high. - kind - and my 5 star rating is just me - lol- ( sucker for those emotions) ...
But I wasn’t in the Nightingale- or even the authors ‘new’ book - not in the same way many are speaking of it anyway. I’m already forgetting it’s title.
Going back to your PM now. Xo


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "Awww such a great 2nd morning sleep!!! ..
Haha!!! Oh... NOW... I remember it...
I remember it WELL.... ( haha)...
AND ... I can see what you say about the bad guys disappearing when not needed an..."


Probably it was more me wanting a different story than any fault of the author. I did find the gimmick of it trite though. And didn't understand why a woman, given she's inventing everything, would tell a dying man that his mother had betrayed the family she worked for. Had they made it to Paris maybe they would have survived the war. You stood a much better chance as a Jew in France than in Czechoslovakia.


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