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Sloppy or non-existent editing spoils what could have been a fine book.
on 21 September 2014
I would agree with a previous reviewer who wrote that the copy editor of this book should be taken out and shot — a slightly unfortunate image given the book's setting and time period — except that I doubt there ever was such a person. Almost every page has homonyms, wrong quotation marks, missing quotation marks, missing punctuation, odd paragraph breaks or no break where there should be one, and so on.
Worse, it seems in places as if there were no editorial input whatever. One small instance is a bottle put away in a cupboard that mysteriously appears in a character's hands a sentence later. There is little excuse for not picking this kind of thing up. More importantly there is a sudden and, it feels, unnecessary change of point of view, late on in the story which, which seems remarkably amateurish for such an experienced and competent writer as does the frequent repetition of certain words, notably "disgust/disgusting" throughout, and the apparent determination to 'convince' the reader by naming what must be every third street and brasserie in Bordeaux. Each grammatical or stylistic error has the effect of jerking the reader out of the story which is a pity since Massie captures the feel of Bordeaux at the start of WW2 persuasively and the story itself is initially involving.
Overall the book reads more like a second draft — in one place there's even what seems like a 'note to self' in the text — than a book polished by either author or editor. The first few pages seemed both formulaic and tentative, as if the writer were playing himself in, just getting the feel of the writing. The story overall seems uncertain with, to me, an unsatisfactory ending, or, rather, an ending which would have been satisfactory had there been more to it. It feels as though Massie had almost given up on the story and settled for an ending which fits the theme and is realistic in the context rather than one that also feels fully rounded off with full emotional weight given. In fact the whole book has a tentative feel, as if the writer was exploring the story as he went along, unsure of its detailed direction, with seeming loose ends — for example, why identical twins for no obvious reason? — and extra characters introduced late on and for little apparent reason other than to give a lift to a sagging story, something they don't, in any case, quite do as they are not directly connected to the story.
So, is it a bad book? Not at all. But it is a weak one. An unnecessarily weak one that, with proper editing could have been a strong one. Perhaps Massie and the publishers were up against a too-tight deadline? I can think of no other reason why a book from an experienced and skilled writer like Massie should have been sent to print in such poor condition. Unless, surely not, the wrong file was sent and this really was just an early draft?
Overall, this was a disappointing read and I'm now not sure whether I want to invest further time and money in the rest of the trilogy. Yet the central character is attractive and worth getting to know better, minor characters have enough weight to carry them on into further stories, and both the location and time period are skilfully evoked, particularly the sense of continuing ordinary life and ordinary people's powerlessness in the midst of otherwise dramatic circumstances.
I'm undecided. But I think I'll probably try the next one, at least, and hope that it has received the proper editing that this book deserved but patently did not get.