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Pretty on the surface, but nothing underneath
on 28 January 2015
I feel like I must have missed something with this book. For all the reviews proclaiming it a genius retelling, an avant-garde novel and a tour de force of storytelling, I found it to be merely an exercise in pretty prose writing and dialogue.
Don't get me wrong - this is a beautifully written book. There were quotes in this book that I've highlighted; there are pages that I've folded at the corners so I can find them again when I want to read a wonderful line. But that's all they are, and that's perhaps why they stood out so starkly; they're just beautiful lines in an otherwise rather empty narrative.
In terms of character, I had to struggle very hard to see any. Despite the fact that the narrative is told from more than one viewpoint, both narrative voices sounded exactly the same, with the only discernible difference being that Midge tended to think in almost staccato parentheses whereas Anthea's thoughts were more fluid. Both characters seemed to be almost interchangeable, and as for the character of Robin - well, she was really more of an archetype than anything else. An enjoyable archetype, yes, but an archetype nonetheless.
I also thought that the plot was poorly paced and jumped from one narrative event to the next with little to no context, meaning that the actual significance or indeed relevance of certain plot points was totally lost. It's a shame, because the actual plot itself was interesting, although slightly thin. I think that Smith could have done with an extra 50 or so pages to flesh things out a bit more. Bare bones are fine if there's a reason that they're skeletal. In contrast, the ending of the book dragged so terribly that it was a real chore to finish. The last seven or so pages could really have been condensed into one simple paragraph; the only casualty would have been some stunning poetic language, which this book doesn't lack anyway. I think a harsher editor might have been useful in this case.
I didn't hate the book. I want to make that clear. I'll certainly reread it in the future. I just wish that there was more to it behind the lovely prose and the deft wordplay, because on first reading, it seemed like a rather hollow narrative.