Friday, 26 July 2013

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements
J. Courtney Sullivan
Virago August 2013
9781844089352

From the Blurb

EVELYN has been married for forty years, since her husband slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place.

DELPHINE knows both sides of love: the ecstatic high of seduction, and the bitter fury of an affair turned to ashes.

JAMES, down on his luck, knows his wife's family think she could have done so much better.

KATE, who has lived with Dan for ten years, has seen every kind of wedding, and vowed never to have one of her own.

And MARY FRANCES GERETY, a young copywriter in an up and coming advertising agency in 1947, has to convince the world of two things: that marriage means a diamond ring on every woman's finger, and that she is as capable of doing her job as any man.



Review

This whopping 400 page book is about love and engagement, but it is not about happily ever after.  Told in five different voices, it is an exploration of the ways that the idea of love and marriage has evolved throughout the twentieth century.  As a broad structure, we are also treated to snippets of the story of Mary Frances Gerety, the real woman behind the advertising campaign "Diamonds are Forever."

While fascinating historically, the story of Mary Frances lacks real narrative purpose.  Unlike the other voices, Frances' chapters jump forwards and backwards in time and consist largely of internal monologues, heavy in backstory.  The character herself is spunky and likeable, and it is interesting to read about the trials of a woman in the advertising industry- but there is a lot of wasted potential there are I feel like Frances could have had a novel all her own.

The other parts seem at first like they are jumbled up short stories.  Until I finished the book, I saw no sense in interspersing them, but SPOILER ALERT the characters in this book aside from Frances are all linked!  I won't tell you how, just to keep you guessing.  The book begins (chronologically) with Evelyn and Gerald.

 For Evelyn, love means faithfulness and steadfastness, despite the fact that her husband has started entering every raffle and sweepstakes that he can find since he's retired.  She is therefore completely baffled when her son Teddy, who has always been less than perfect, leaves his angel of a wife Julie and their two daughters for a harlot named Nicole.  Evelyn wants Teddy to share the same opinion of love that she does- that when you marry, you marry forever, even if your first husband dies, and you (oh, I don't know) marry his best friend, and live the rest of your life with a ghost in bed between you.

Then there is James, an EMT living and working in the 1980s, just struggling to make ends meet.  He's married to Sheila, who is from a preppy, all-American background and has a perfect, preppy sister married to a suitable man who is very unlike James.  James feels the pressure of Sheila's family's expectations pretty heavily but he is too proud to accept money from his father-in-law and ends up working long shifts.  He also has latent anger and drinking issues.  He and Sheila have two sons.  Personally, I think more than Sheila's family thinking James is not good enough, it is James himself who feels guilty for dragging Sheila down.  As the only male protagonist in the novel, James is more complicated, because his love for Sheila at times takes an almost violent form- when she is mugged and her wedding ring is stolen, instead of wanting to comfort her, he wants to find the culprit and harm him.  These chapters take the form of one of those Disney Christmas type movies- a mad race against time to be there for Christmas morning with the perfect gift- but lack the warm fuzzy feeling, because a dark cloud hangs over this relationship.

After James comes Delphine, a French music enthusiast who meets her husband Henri when they both attempt to buy the same music shop.  Her husband happens to own a rare Stradivarius.  They work together and are good friends, but while Henri's passion burns, Delphine is only lukewarm.  When PJ comes to buy the Stradivarius violin and they begin an affair, the heat that she was missing seems to fulfil her.  Delphine soon discovers that like all fires, this passion is quick to consume and die, and betrayed, she sets about destroying PJ's world like he destroyed hers.  She learns that loyalty and respect, like she had with Henri, are the truest foundation for marriage.

Finally, there is Kate, a frankly quite annoying Human Rights advocate who HATES the idea of marriage and who cannot look at diamond engagement rings without thinking of people dying in mines.  When cousin Jeff is finally allowed by law to marry his life partner Toby, Kate has to be happy for him even though it goes against everything that she believes in.  And then, she loses one of their rings...

Whilst reading each segment, I felt the potential for hope.  The redemptive power of love was quite clear for each character, and yet when things that happened after the stories had closed were revealed during other chapters, I realised that there truly was no happily ever after.  (Spoilers...)  Evelyn dies in the back of James' ambulance, James and Sheila get drunk and fat respectively and end up living off the money given to them by their son Parker, who is the PJ who cheats on Delphine.  Delphine loses the ring PJ gives her in a taxi, and it is sold and then lost again by Kate.  Perhaps only Kate and Delphine have happy endings, but maybe it is too soon to know.  So is J. Courtney Sullivan pro love, against it, or maybe just wary?

I enjoyed reading this novel on a very superficial level.  The language was florid, the prose over told, but in the end, the ideas sparkled like diamonds, and it was nowhere near as fluffy as it had the potential to be.  I liked the clever way that the stories revealed themselves to be linked at a steady rate rather than it being obvious all along, and I particularly enjoyed Delphine's story.

I give this book three out of five stars.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Book Q and A - via Book to the Future

Book Q&A Rules
1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover
3. Answer the questions below
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!



I got a new copy of The Great Gatsby this year, because the one I had was one of those $6.95 blue classics, and it just didn't look ritzy enough.  Strangely, I loved the book more once it was beautiful and green, as above, although that may have more to do with my being older and wiser perhaps...

What are you reading right now?
J. Courtney Sullivan's The Engagements
The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz, which is a book about understanding maths which I got for my birthday from my partner, who is, among other things, a mathematician.
The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman
Do you have any idea what you'll read when you're done with that?
I have an ARC of the new Tim Winton novel that comes out in October, so definitely that.
What five books have you always wanted to read but haven't got round to?
The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Vanity Fair  by WM Thackeray

Although, you may need to define always because I doubt I knew these books existed as a small child.
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/ lounge right now?
Current Cleo, last month's Cosmo, Last month's Frankie, some Vogues from early last year and a copy of The Canary Press that they sent to my work to see if we would like to stock it.
What's the worst book you've ever read?
I don't want to name names, but I do definitely have a book in mind.
What book seemed really popular but you didn't like?
It's far too obvious for me to say Twilight, so I will have to go with Eat Pray Love.   Also, between you and me, I enjoyed reading Twilight when I was in the moment, it was only after that my inner feminist kicked me in the head and asked what I had been thinking.
What's the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
What are your three favourite poems?
"The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never quite be expressed
Where you yourself were not yourself
And did not have to be" - Wallace Stevens

Sylvia Plath - Lady Lazarus

Emily Dickinson- 341
Where do you usually get your books?
I work in a bookshop, and I am my own biggest customer.  
When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
Not really, I just read a lot.  Like, a lot a lot.
What's the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?
Last week I stayed up til midnight reading Lexicon by Max Barry.  I would have stayed up all night, but I finished it.
Have you ever "faked" reading a book?
...Maybe.
Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Absolutely.  See above about Gatsby.
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
Thomas the Tank Engine and The Foot Book.
What book changed your life?
Jasper Jones.   I spent a year of my life studying that book, and it taught me that above all else, I love to write and read.  And that I love WA.
What is your favourite passage from a book?
"Because," he said, "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you,--you'd forget me."  From Jane Eyre
Who are your top five favourite authors?
Philippa Gregory
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Margaret Atwood
Craig Silvey
Marian Keyes
What book has no one heard about but should read?
That's really tough!  Speechless by Hannah Harrington is probably a good example of an excellent YA novel that documents an authentic experience in a meaningful way, so that.

Ooh ooh, and The Little Book by Selden Edwards.
What books are you an 'evangelist' for?
Oh, gosh.  Local stuff, mostly.  I usually steer my customers towards local writing, like Jasper Jones, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot,  What is Left over After, Deborah Burrows, Tim Winton etc etc.
What are your favourite books by a first time author?
Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker.
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
What is your favourite classic book?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Five other notable mentions?
I am growing to love Toni Jordan more and more but I have yet to read Nine Days.
Charlotte Wood is my latest favourite find.  I read Animal People an adopted a copy of The Children at the second hand book store.  
I love Ian McEwan but I dread reading Solar.
Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close had me so frightened and upset that I had to go and hug my father, just to make sure he was still there.
Everything I Know About Writing by John Marsden is a must have for writers.

In return, I am tagging:
Annabel Smith
According to Amber
Jade Goes with Everything

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Guest Blog- Welcome to my Bookshelves- Michelle McLaren from Book to the Future

When Emily kindly invited me to write a post about my bookshelf, I realised that I'd need to do a little bit of a clean up. Which meant rounding up all the books that had escaped from their my shelves and return them to their rightful places.

Can you spot Michelle's trusty tea cup?  (It's not hiding.  But you might be distracted by the leaning tower of books behind it...)


So I started hunting. I found a little pile of three books under the coffee table. There were a further four books on the coffee table itself. On the dining table, there were at least two, and sitting on the stairs, waiting to be transferred upstairs, there were around six books. The Slap was under the couch, for some reason.

That's not all. Outside the door to my study, there's yet another little pile of books. There are more books next to my side of the bed. My desk has a stack of books that I'm currently writing about.

In the time it's taken me to write this post, a further four books have materialised on my coffee table.

  

These shelves are a recent addition to my study. Before that, all my books were piled up in staggering stacks against the wall. They'd frequently topple over, or I'd accidentally bump a pile as I walked past, causing a great literary avalanche.

Last year, I got sick of wading through books to get to my desk, got in the car and drove off to Ikea. Only hours later, we'd returned, the shelves had been assembled...and I'd already filled them with books.  

I'd write something about how my books are organised - but, to tell the truth, there's very little logic behind the way I've decided to shelve my books. On top of the bookcase are all the books I've blogged about so far. The first couple of cubes contain the books I'll be reviewing soon.

And that's about as organised as my shelves get, I'm afraid.



Most sensible people have their favourites all grouped together. I've got a few clusters of favourites here and there. You can tell the books I've loved the most at a glance - just look for the creased spines.

There are a few little clusters of similar books here and there. Most of my non-fiction is gathered together. I've tried to keep all of my sci-fi and fantasy favourites in the top right corner. Modern books and older books are shelved separately, because sometimes, I decide what to read based on the age of the book. But otherwise, it's all a glorious jumble.

The books that are sitting on the little table in front of my shelves are pretty much all unread, waiting for me to find room for them. Which is a problem, because I keep buying more books and I'm already out of room.

I'm not going to lie, I own a lot of books I haven't yet read. A lot. But I'm okay with that. I don't see my to-be-read pile as a threat or a curse. To me, unread books are like the voices of friends, calling me out to play. Just seeing them there, sitting on my shelves fills me with delight at the thought of all the literary discoveries waiting for me. The weight of those unread books keeps me from drifting away to other things. I'm grateful they're there.



The most treasured book from my collection is my first edition American edition of The Little Prince - one of my favourite books. It was a Christmas gift from my husband a few years ago. It's a fragile thing, so it lives in a special place.

I've heard of people who have home cinema rooms. I dream of one day owning a house with a library. Possibly even one with a secret entrance.


But until then, I'll stick with my overflowing shelves from Ikea. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Book Review: Me and Rory Macbeath by Richard Beasley

Me and Rory Macbeath
Richard Beasley
Hachette
9780733630309

From the Blurb

Adelaide, 1977.  It's the year Elvis died, but for twelve-year-old Jake Taylor that doesn't really mean much. His world revolves around school; Rose Avenue, the street where he and his mum Harry live; and the courthouse where Harry is a barrister.  His best friend, Robbie Duncan, lives only a few houses away and for them Christmas Holidays are for cricket, tennis and swimming at the pool or the beach.  But then Rory Macbeath movies into the red brick house at the end of the avenue and everything starts to change.

Review

They're calling this book the next Jasper Jones.  Okay, so they're not, they're saying that you'll love it if you loved JJ, which I did, but still...  Having been told that I was both itching to read this book in case they were right, and apprehensive about reading it in case it was dismally disappointing.  The truth lay somewhere in the middle.  Me and Rory Macbeath does not have the complexity to its layering that Jasper Jones does.  If you know much about my thesis, you'll know that I think there is a quite diverse set of cultural myths at play in JJ, whereas Me and Rory Macbeath could probably have happened anywhere in the world.  This is not to it's detriment, it's just a fact.  I think what the two have in common is their nostalgia.  There's a clear longing in the pages (in fact it's often stated) for the days of summer street cricket, shoelessness and lake fishing.  And these scenes are done lovingly, if a little passively in their execution.

Beasley's characterisation of his main trio of characters, Harry, Jake and Rory is particularly strong but I felt there were a number of supporting characters who kind of doubled up: Mr Nixon and Mr Kincaid, Mrs Williams the second and Mrs Macbeath, Robbie and pretty much every other kid mentioned.  I felt like there was a lot of potential for something to happen, for example for Mr Nixon to take Jake under his wing and become a grandfather figure, and in a way, the scenes in which Mr Nixon began sitting with Jake in court I think were an attempt at this, but the opportunities were largely wasted.  I was also upset to see that the blossoming possibility of first love between Lucy and Jake was allowed to fade out at the end of the story.

This book really shone in the courtroom scenes, no surprises there... I am pretty sure Beasley was/is a lawyer, but correct me if I'm wrong.  The sheer detail of the cases, the lawyer's questions, were enthralling.  I was drawn in by the arguing of a minor sub-plot case in which a small child called Adam cut his eye open on a fence.  These were the funniest scenes, with Jake translating the subtle barbs passed between the lawyers.

All in all, it was a slow book to get into, but quite entertaining, and I give it a three out of five.  

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Local Wildlife by Robert Drewe

The Local Wildlife
Robert Drewe
Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton
9781926428482

From the Blurb

Welcome to the Northern Rivers, where the 'local wildlife' can refer to more than just the exotic native fauna.  After a decade spent in this picturesque corner of Australia, home of chocolate-coated women, pythons in the ceiling, online Russian brides, deadly paralysis ticks, and the mysterious Mullumbimby Monster, Robert Drewe wiped the green zinc cream from his face and set down some of his unusual wildlife experiences that the far North and New South Wales- home of the world's greatest variety of ants- had to offer.

Pre- Review

I'd like to start this review with a little story.

A few weeks ago, I was working in the bookstore, and I'd been downstairs for something.  As I came up the stairs, I noticed that a man was admiring our staff picks stand.  He had his back to me, but I could tell that he was holding in his hands a copy of The Local Wildlife.

"Fantastic choice!" I said.  "I'm a big Robert Drewe fan.  So pleased to see he has another new book out."

The gentleman turned around, and his female companion looked amused.

"This is Robert Drewe."

As soon as he looked at me, I knew it was true.  I turned a violent, beetroot red.

So.  That was how I tried to sell Robert Drewe a copy of his own book!  Meeting Mr Drewe was quite possibly the highlight of my year so far.  Last year, whilst doing Honours, I gave a lecture on The Shark Net, and I relied on his scholarly work quite heavily in my research.  I was pleased to be able to tell him how much his work meant to me, and he was kind enough to sign a copy of the new book for me!


Review

The Local Wildlife is a hybrid publication, part memoir and part collection of short stories.  While lacking the traditional narrative arc, this book is lively, entertaining, and carries a connecting thread throughout its contributions.  It meditates on the idea of celebrating the strange and wonderful people that we meet in our everyday lives, and embracing the idea that we may be strange and wonderful ourselves.  There is also a sense that stories and people like these could happen nowhere else in the world.

The book is witty and sharp in its observations.  It is funny without being cruel, and accepting of all different ways of life.  I was particularly taken by the recurring descriptions of the farmer who orders a mail-order bride from Russia because his wife has run off with her yoga teacher- a woman.  The descriptions of the potential mail-order brides... including one who has clearly had a falling out with her translator... are sure to elicit a reaction something akin to 'the truth really is stranger than fiction.'  Drewe is also able to laugh at himself, recounting a day when he rubbed green zinc cream all over himself and was then unable to return to a normal colour, his pool cleaner excusing the strangeness by explaining 'He's a writer."

If you loved Drewe's earlier work and you're looking for a great book to relax with at sunset (on your balcony, maybe with a chardonnay) then this is it.

Five stars.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Find me on Annabel Smith's Blog Today!

Honoured to be asked to participate in this week's Friday Faves over at Annabel Smith's blog.  Click here to read about my undying love for Jasper Jones, and learn just WHY reading is so sexy...


Saturday, 6 July 2013

Book Review: just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

just_a_girl
Kirsten Krauth
UWA Publishing
9781742584949

From the Blurb

Layla is only 14.  She cruises online.  She catches trains to meet strangers.  Her mother, Margot, never suspects.  Even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Margot's caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor.

Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

Review

It's incredibly hard to write correctly the ways that people interact on the internet.  Surfing online, talking to your friends, even blogging... sometimes the experience is a little like exporting consciousness into the vastness that is the web and leaving your body behind.  Just ask anyone who's ever tried to go on Facebook for a short amount of time, then looked at the clock to discover hours have passed.

just_a_girl is a novel that is of and within the digital age.  It explores the accelerated sexuality of teens online, with increasing access to information, and ways of expressing themselves.  Teenage Layla does not need her mother's guidance to become a grown up, which is good, because Margot is totally clueless.  Layla meets men online and then in real life; she makes sexually explicit videos and sends them to men she knows; she goes with an older boy named Davo, and it seems as if she doesn't care- but she does. When Davo gets off with her best friend, she feels the betrayal, just like she feels the wrongness in the sexual advances of her boss at the supermarket- because these things are not done out of desire or love (misguided as it may be), but out of a need to be the one in control.  Cheat or be cheated on.  Exploit the power you have over your employees.

The relationships that Layla engages in are all about connection.  Everyone on the internet hides behind their anonymity in order to reach out for the things that maybe they cannot ask for as their true selves.  There is a parallel here between the other two storylines of the book.  Margot looks for connection and comfort in her church.  And Tadashi, whose storyline seems to be connected only by this tenuous thread and his train rides with Layla, looks for connection with a real doll who looks like her.

I think this book had the potential to be really quite gross, but while it skates the edge of the shocking, it never tips over into that territory, and that is why it is such an effective novel.  I just wish that Layla had been able to talk in proper sentences.  Her short, clipped sentences were at odds with her intelligent and insightful vocabulary. But her voice was authentic and likeable, vulnerable but tough in exactly the right ratio, and ultimately this book was un-put-downable.

Four and a half stars.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Book Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins
Jami Attenberg
Serpent's Tail/ Allen and Unwin
(Review copy)

From the Blurb

They say the family that eats together stays together... but nobody eats like Edie, the matriarch of the Middlesteins.

Edie and Richard have been married for over 30 years, living in the Chicago suburbs.  Everyone who knows them- even their own children Robin and Benny- agree that Edie is a tough woman to love, but no one expects Richard to walk out on her, especially not in her condition.  Edie is 59 years old, she weighs over 300 pounds, and she's eating herself into the grave.

As Richard is shut out by the family and seeks solace in the world of internet dating, Robin is dragged back from the city and forced to rebuild a relationship with her mother.  Meanwhile, Benny and his neurotic wife Rachelle try to take control of the situation.  But have any of them stopped to think about whether Edie wants to be saved?

Review

I once read that it's only necessary to include meal times in books if something happens during the meal that advances the plot.  That's a funny idea, considering that so much of our culture revolves around eating.  The image of food as a unifying factor in our lives is becoming more and more common, and paired with this is the idea that as flawed creatures we can become dependent on it, and form emotional attachments to it, rather than through it.  This is what has happened to Edie Middlestein, in a way.  She's not the world's most perfect mother, but nor is she Mommy dearest.  Edie's biggest sin is that she loves to eat.  She is, in a way, addicted to it.  And because in our society it is becoming more and more unacceptable to be overweight, she is condemned by the other characters in the novel for the threat she poses to her own health.  And fair enough.  But the book also shows these other characters to be addicted to things that may kill or harm them as well.  Richard is controlled by his own sexual desires.  Robin is an alcoholic.  Benny smokes pot still, even though he is a grown man with young children.  Rachelle is a stressed out control freak.  But only Edie is looked down upon- because as a society, we do not tolerate obese people.  Especially not women.

What The Middlesteins shows the reader is a deep portrait of a family at a crisis point, and the depth of their complex issues with one another.  It does this without trying to offer a solution.  In fact, you could say it does not posit one, because there isn't one.  Each character is enslaved by their own wants and needs and there is nothing they can do about it.  But it does not make them bad people.  In the middle of the night before a surgery she needs to fast for, Edie comes down to her kitchen for a sneaky snack, she finds her son Benny sitting at the kitchen bench reading his child's Harry Potter book.  He's not there to tell her not to eat. But he's there to remind her she shouldn't, because he loves her.  This is just one example of the tender, well thought out moments of familial love that scatter the pages of this book.  Food is love, but love is love also.  Will Edie learn this in time?

There is a chapter towards the end of the book where the reader experiences the children's bnai mitsvah from the points of view of the Middlesteins friends.  This chapter takes place wholly in a strange detatched second person, we, and allows us the distance to step back and assess the people we have been reading about.  It is a risky mood from a compositional point of view, but necessary, because the reader needs that opportunity to take stock of how they feel about everyone before the writer's final card is revealed.

All in all, this is a wonderful book about families and the messed up ways in which they work, and I give it four stars.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Book Review: The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale
Charlie Lovett
Text Publishing
9781922079336

From the Blurb

Shattered by the death of his wife Amanda, antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is drifting through life aimlessly when he stumbles on the Victorian miniature that so forcefully reminds him of her. Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture's origins.  But as he follows the trail back, first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare's time, he learns much more than that.  The truth about his own past, for example; and even possibly the key to the mystery of who really did write Shakespeare'e plays.

The Bookman's Tale is a novel of timeless love and dangerous obsession by a writer at the peak of his powers.  It will enthral and delight readers everywhere.

Review

Enthralling this book certainly is, but I don't know about delightful.  There are several things about this book that failed to have the desired effect.  For example, the main character Peter Byerly.  Peter is a naturally anxious person who is shy almost to the point of it being medical, and later in the book it is implied that he has a social anxiety disorder.  After Amanda's death, Peter withdraws from the world and focusses on his book business, but he is given a list of goals by his psychiatrist that includes tasks like "Reconnect with old friends."  Peter does not do this, unless you count his talking to the spectre of his wife that seems to follow him around.  I think Peter's plight is supposed to arouse our sympathy.  We are supposed to want to hug the bereft widower, but I really just wanted to get away from him.  Peter's sad-sack qualities made for large chunks of internal monologue which were all thought and no action.  When action sequences DID come along, they moved expediently from point A to point B, leaving me as a reader feeling a little cheated.  I also got a sense of inconsistency and transparency from Peter.  When he suddenly foiled the baddie in one of the final chapters, it seemed like too far a stretch for his character entirely, and I was not amused.

Mild mannered detective Peter is not.  While his manuscript question does lead him around the place, more of the truth is revealed to the reader in historical vignettes than through Peter's scholarly attempts, and it appears that the real story occurs not in Peter's present but in his, or someone else's past.  This novel is as ambitious in it's scope as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, but falls short of its literary predecessors.  It certainly had the potential to be just as good, if not better, if it had been given more time to pan out.  After all, The Historian is a book some 800 or so pages long for a reason.

The strength of this novel lay in its narrative tension.  Lovett knows how to keep his readers hanging on.  Just as I was feeling my interest wane, something big would happen.  Lovett would give just enough information to tantalise and then end the segment, moving around in time so that you would have to read on to find out what next.

Structurally I would give this novel a four, but as for plot and skill of execution, it's a two for me.  Sorry!