10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Bellwether Revivals (Hardcover)
This is a very promising first novel, but like many first novels it tries to do too much. There is too much plot in it, too much material that is very derivative, and far too much wildly unrealistic event and dialogue. "Write about what you know" may be dull advice but Benjamin Wood should have taken notice of it.The rather repellent Cambridge students are a mixture of characters culled from Evelyn Waugh, P.D.James, Donna Tartt and the (also wildly unrealistic) Lewis TV programmes, and profoundly unlike any real undergraduates from anywhere, no matter how clever or rich they are supposed to be. Such students would never pick up a character like Oscar as a pet. And where does Oscar come from? How does this young lad who leaves school at 16 manage to be so articulate and reflective? Why are these self-absorbed young people so keen on wisteria, anyway? The Bellwether parents are ridiculous, making toe-curling utterances like "My son has inherited my love of dialectic" and, because they are supposedly Christians, shocked at meeting an atheist, regarding hypnotism as "profane". Presumably Mr Wood has never met either a serious academic or an educated Christian.He has also spent too long abroad. English parents do not address their children as "son" like the Bellwethers do. The theme of the hypnotic properties of music was genuinely interesting and unusual and should have been presented more thoroughly. The psychological plot was also worthwhile but it became melodramatic and wearisome. It would have been better- more difficult but much more original and rewarding- if these two themes had been treated directly and Eden's story had been really central, without Oscar's unconvincing romance with Iris and the unnecessary Paulsen/ Crest part. Despite the comments of other reviewers, I don't think characterisation is Wood's strong point: he can evoke someone like the weird Eden perfectly well, but the more normal characters are fairly indistinguishable from each other. He is good at pace, and the novel keeps one reading, even if it is often infuriating. It is evident that a great deal of effort has gone into this novel, but unfortunately much of it is misdirected. It is to be hoped that Mr Wood, who, we are told, teaches creative writing, encourages his students to avoid his own mistakes.