Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
on 18 March 2009
I found this book to be complex and fascinating. It combines elements of fairy tale with a study of the triggers for personal transformation, and also manages to develop into a plausible thriller.
We are introduced at the start of the book to Iris Greenfeder - wannabe author, not-quite professor (ABD = all but dissertation), and in a long standing relationship that doesn't require much commitment on either side. Iris misses her mother, who was killed in a hotel fire when she was young, and is sad about the recent death of her father. She isn't all that happy with her life - but she doesn't feel the need for change. Yet.
However, Iris writes a story based on one of her mother's fairy tales and submits it to a magazine for publication. Like a stone dropped into a pool, this small action creates ripples. Powerful people begin to gather around Iris. At first she (and we) think this is just happenstance. The magazine editor publishes Iris's story and introduces Iris to her uncle (Harry) who, by coincidence (we think), turns out to be a hotel magnate and who buys up the, now run down, hotel where Iris grew up. Then, out of the blue, a well known literary agent contacts Iris and encourages her to work on a memoir about her mother. Together these forces work on Iris's unconscious feelings of dissatisfaction with her life and she decides to spend the summer at the hotel looking for clues about her mother's past.
So Iris reluctantly takes on the job of hotel manager and turns out to be good at it - the first step in her personal transformation. She also finds a job at the hotel for ex-convict Aidan and begins a romantic relationship with him - another change for Iris. Aidan goes through his own transformation from ex-convict to professional hotel staff member and all round hero. Gradually, as Iris finds out more about her mother's past, other people who have an interest get closer and closer. The pace of the story gradually picks up, building to an exciting thriller ending.
At intervals throughout out the book, we are given snippets from Iris's mother's books, unfolding the story of the Selkies. This story hints at what happened to Iris's mother in the past and gives us clues to the present day events taking place. Normally I find this type of side-tracking to be irritating, breaking the flow of the narrative, but in this book the little snippets of fairy tale are skilfully woven in to give us important insights to the action.
I think it's a pity that the publishers have flagged this book as a thriller. Although it has an exciting finish, the first half of the book is too slow and too reflective to keep the attention of a reader who expects action and fast pace.
Personally, I found the first half of the book to be insightful and thought-provoking, I loved the interweaving of different themes, and as the pace stepped up I was happily carried along to what for me was a very satisfactory ending.