As promised, I took along some newer books on vacation recently, and managed to finish three of them. Alas, two were not much fun to read, but the last was as entertaining as I’d hoped! Read on to find out which one…
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss had a premise with great potential: a mash-up of female “monsters” and daughters of monsters from various nineteenth century novels and stories, solving a mystery in Victorian London along with Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, this potential was not fulfilled in my eyes. The device of having one of the characters write the story while the others chime in with interpolated dialogue (“Hey, don’t write that!” “Excellent description, my dear”) could have provided a clever metafictional touch, but I found it just clumsy and banal, not adding anything to the story. But most unforgivable in my eyes was the total lack of any sense of the language of the era. I don’t think historical novelists have to be slavishly imitative of the language of the past, but their writing should have a period flavor. Here, a profusion of American slang phrases like “Okay,” “Whatever,” and “No big deal” made me roll my eyes and almost put the book down, though I plodded through it for some reason. I’ll stick to reading the originals — I really want to read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde now — or appreciate even more the authors who do manage to write convincingly with some historical style.
I picked up Lover by Anna Raverat because I read rave reviews of her first novel, Signs of Life, but this one was more easily available. I’m still interested in tracking down the other book, but Lover seemed an example of sophomore slump. Narrated by a woman who has just discovered her husband’s secret love life, while jumping around to various locations for her job with a hotel chain, I found it disjointed, dull and pointless. There was nothing interesting about the relationship it depicted — the husband was a jerk, she kicked him out, it took her a while to come to terms with that, the end. I was actually more interested in the hotels, and if she had stayed in one place and developed some interesting relationships with the denizens or employees, the narrative might have come to life. But no, there was no continuity there either. Two cute daughters had some good lines, but were not fully realized as individuals either.
Sighing with disappointment, I picked up my third choice, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, a genre-bending YA mystery-thriller-paranormal-sci-fi-fantasy. When a penniless orphan is invited to a huge, mysterious mansion by an acquaintance of great wealth and charm, you know some capers are going to ensue…and they do, in five different directions set off by different choices made by the main character, Jane. At first it was hard for me to follow what was going on, but as the same situation was cleverly re-imagined through various fictional lenses and with different potential outcomes, it started to come into focus. Jane’s obsession with crafting umbrellas into unique works of art also appealed to me; though some find it silly to be passionate about parasols, I found it a great new take on the creative process. Comparisons to Diana Wynne Jones are not amiss — the multiverse she so enchantingly explored is given another twist here.
Have you read anything particularly noteworthy this summer? Or anything you wish you hadn’t bothered to finish?