Top critical review
10 people found this helpful
Tries too Hard to Be Romantic
on 14 September 2011
I had such mixed feelings about this book! It could have been a really interesting story, but never quite got there. Like most of Hore's novels, it's in part contemporary, part historical. In the contemporary parts of the book, art historian and university lecturer Melanie (I think she's meant to be a teacher at Goldsmith's College, but it might be another South London college), depressed at a split from her boyfriend Jake (a name rarely met in real life but often chosen for rakish figures in romantic fiction) heads off to Cornwall to do some research on the Lamorna School of painters (a group of artists who came in between the 19th-century Newlyn and the 20th-century St Ives schools). At the Cornish manor house of her landlord Patrick, Mel becomes intrigued by a wonderful picture of a garden - soon, she is trying to find out more about the artist, who she realizes was influenced by the Lamorna School, and also help Patrick restore the gardens of his house. The story of the artist, a lady's maid called Pearl who worked at the house in the early 20th century and longed to become a painter, is told in parallel with Mel's.
This could have been a fascinating story about art and what it was like to be a woman artist in the early 20th century, compared to now. But after some fascinating early stuff about the Lamorna School (well researched by the author) Hore drifts off into a rather wishy-washy romance between Mel and Patrick, full of stilted rather sentimental dialogue. Patrick never quite works as a hero - he comes across rather as a Mr Darcy without the energy and the interesting bits! And his hesitating between Mel and his former girlfriend Bella (a positively horrible caricature) simply seems feeble. We get far too much of Mel and Patrick's romance and not enough about Mel's art research or indeed about Cornwall - the descriptions of Cornwall are pallid compared to those in novels by (to take two examples) Helen Dunmore or Jill Paton Walsh. The historical sections of the novel certainly had some interesting moments, even if characters did tend to speak in rather awkward 'I-am-in-a-historical-novel' mode at times (something Hore managed to avoid in her third novel for the most part), but again, too much time was taken up with Pearl's romance with spineless Charles and not enough with her artistic career. I would have also liked to hear more about Pearl's eventual marriage to the much older John Boase - that was potentially a really interesting love story that was never given enough space.
This was a novel brimming with potential interesting stories which tended to get resolved all too slickly and happily. Irina, the Bosnian immigrant, was a fascinating character, but I felt her eventual fate was just a quick way of wrapping up her bit of the plot and none too plausible. Mel's relationship with her father, and her mourning for her dead mother could have also made an interesting plot strand and up to a point did, but again tended to dissolve into cliche (as in the scene when Melanie's father embraces her, declaring 'My little Melanie, always my little Melanie', which had a touch of EastEnders speak about it). And in reality, particularly in this decade, I think Melanie would have found a move to Cornwall a bit scary financially!
However, despite all these criticisms, I still enjoyed the book, would read it again, and think Hore is a good and interesting writer. I just wish she'd make more use of her many promising ideas and wonderful grasp of history and stop trying to fit into the popular women's fiction market so much.