Review backlog – part 2

Continuing the idea from a recent post, here are some short reviews of novels I read a few years ago but failed to finish the reviews. Luckily I had started them and had kept a few notes to help but don’t expect any deep insight on each of these…..

mycousinrachelMy Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier: I had high expectations for this one having seen multiple reviews about how good it was. I picked it up as a companion to a long international flight, thinking it would distract me but I found it decidedly dull. It’s set largely at a large estate in Cornwall owned and run by Ambrose Ashley together with his young cousin Philip . All goes swimmingly until Ambrose’s health deteriorates and he has to leave England for warmer climates, choosing to sojourn instead in Italy. There he meets cousin Rachel, marries her and sends letters back home about how happy he is. Gradually the tone changes and he begins complaining of repeated headaches. A few weeks later Rachel, now a widow, turns up at the estate. Philip is attracted to her despite his doubts that she might have had a hand in Ambrose’s death. The rest of the novel is an unraveling of the mystery about Rachel and Ambrose’s demise and whether Philip wakes up to the reality of the situation in time to avoid a personal catastrophy. I thought the mystery ponderous and the writing lacking in energy. Just about managed to finish it.

sarahs-keySarah’s Key by Isabelle de Rothsay

This was recommended to me by a colleague in North America who is even more of an avid reader than I am. We discovered this connection via a team building exercise where you have to come up with three things that you think no-one else knows about you, then the other people have to guess who that fact relates to. It was a good recommendation for a book I doubt I would have picked up otherwise.

It has a dual time frame.In one we meet ten-year-old Sarah Starzynski, a Jewish girl born in Paris, who is arrested with her parents during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Before they go, she locks her four-year-old brother in a cupboard, thinking the family should be back in a few hours. The second plot follows Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, who is asked to write an article in honour of the 60th anniversary of the roundup. Gradually the two stories coalesce.

This is a narrative that is full of emotional appeal, particularly those set in France. The scenes that take place in the  Vélodrome d’Hiver, where more than 7,000 Jews were enclosed without water or food for days before being moved to concentration camps, were deeply moving, the kind of episode which it is hard to read without feeling bitter and tearful. The modern day story of Julia and her cheating husband had less impact and the ending was far too neatly wrapped up in a big chocolate box bow to work for me. But on the whole I’m glad I read it – the film version wasn’t bad either.

resistanceResistance by Owen Sheers

Owen’s debut novel, Resistance is set in 1944 and imagines what would have happened if the Normandy landings had failed and German troops manage to arrive on British soil. Within a month half of the country is occupied.

In an isolated farm in the Welsh borders Sarah Lewis, finds her farmer husband Tom as disappeared. All the other husbands in the valley have similarly gone. The women are left alone to cope as best they can with the crops and livestock. Later in the novel it transpires they have all become members of the secret British resistance. In the meantime a German patrol arrives on a mystery mission, forming a fragile support for the women when a severe winter hits the valley. Sarah begins a taut relationship with the patrol’s commanding officer. But this puts further pressure on the fragile harmony of the valley and reveals deep undercurrents of feeling.

On the plus side I enjoyed reading about an area of my birth country with which I am familiar but seeing it through fresh eyes. It’s one that is not stack exactly but spare and often overlooked in favour of more lush scenery nearby. Sheers writes in a lyrical mode that really brings alive the landscape and the battle that endures to make a living from this land. Ultimately though this proved nothing more than just an ok novel though – neither good nor bad but not one that would make me recommend it. I think I struggled to engage with the characters and feel them ‘real’. My mum on the other hand loved it and so did her book club so maybe I am in a minority. Its now been turned into a film for which Owen Sheers was the co-screenwriter.

Sheers lives in Wales so I’m keen to support him and will likely read his most recent novel  I Saw A Man  which is set in  London and New York and though also about relationships, has the pace of a thriller.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on November 15, 2016, in American authors, Book Reviews, British authors, Welsh authors and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. No wonder you’ve been feeling a little laggy getting caught up with reviews; it’s harder when you’re not truly enthusiastic about a read, isn’t it. However, we can’t always find a brilliant match, or the truly brilliant ones wouldn’t shine so brightly for us either. Better luc with the next lot!

    • sometimes its just that the book doesn’t hit the spot at that moment – another week or month and it might have suited my mood better

      • This is a major factor for me, too. And even though I’m aware of it, I often still push through with books which I should likely have set aside. But often it’s taken so long for me to actually get to reading them, that I’m reluctant to put them back on the shelf, once begun, even if I’m not feeling a connection either.

  2. You’ve stirred my interest in Sarah’s Key. I’m fascinated by that period in human history and this sounds like a fresh take on it. I’m on the fence about Resistance; it does sound like an interesting what if, just not sure present realities make me able to delve in to the fantasy of that what if. It sounds interesting though.

  3. The premise of Owen Sheers’ novel sounds like a good one. I’ll be curious to see what to think about his newest…

  4. Susie | Novel Visits

    I liked Sarah’s Key very much at the time I read it, but now, a few years later, I remember very little about it. Maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought?

  5. I think I would like Owen Sheers novel. I can’t remember My Cousin Rachel although I’ve read it. Sarah’s Key – not so sure. It is rare that I like this kind of dual narrative. But the Vel d’Hiv story is so, so sad.

  6. Oh, I thought My Cousin Rachel was brilliant. The suspense ratchets up oh so slowly, it’s true, but making Philip the narrator is inspired (he’s such a horrible piece of work, and you’re not sure whether to trust him, but you’re also not sure whether to trust Rachel…) I reviewed it a few months back (

  7. I did like My Cousin Rachel, but not as much as I did Rebecca. I agree with you on Sarah’s Key. Beautiful story, but I was also not that interested in Julia’s story. I saw the film, which I didn’t really like. Thanks for sharing your comments on these books!

    • I’ve yet to read Rebecca! I feel the story is so well known from the film that I could be disappointed though, having said that, I see from some reviews that the book and film are not the same

  1. Pingback: The Lost but Not Forgotten Books, part 1 – A Literary Mind

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