Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Friday, 4 February 2011

Last Train from Liguria

Christine Dwyer Hickey's Last Train from Liguria covers the period between the wars leading up to World War II when Mussolini was instituting Hitler's recommendations for ridding Italian society of Jews and other foreigners who had contributed so much to their financial and cultural prosperity - something of an own goal for them both as it transpired. But we hear the rumbling sounds of war threatening to overthrow the status quo and Hitler holding rallies in Germany. This aspect was convincingly described but I found this an altogether curious novel with its irritating aspects outweighing its positive ones to the point of spoiling what could have been a very good read. If we're going to break the rules, we have to know why.

Absence of verbs

The author's descriptive ability has to be acknowledged. She produced some superb passages of high-quality prose, which were marred, for me at any rate, by 'sentences' containing no verbs. Many were short, sharp fragments, firing out like bullets from a gun, such as 'Time'. 'But'. 'One. Word.' Others were simply subordinate clauses, which made no sense without verbs or an attachment to sentences which they should have qualified, for example 'Since breaking up with Hugh, and even more again since leaving my job a fortnight ago.' How is that a sentence? And should it be the ending of the previous sentence or the beginning of the one that followed it?

Deliberate mistakes?

At first I imagined it to be the work of someone who was an inexperienced writer and whose publisher's editing needed an overhaul but this persistent style, which slowed down my reading, finally led me to the conclusion that it was simply a contrived style adopted by the author to show that she was prepared to break the rules, rather like Gertrude Stein viewed punctuation. I don't know which is true but the book was also full of literals, so perhaps Atlantic Books need to take more care with their editing and proofreading. In any event, it all spoilt my enjoyment of what could have been a good read and although reviews have been mixed, some of the ravers worry me. (Example: '...like someone who's just crossed the dessert.') Writing in present tense is another style I love to hate, although it was well sustained without dropping into other tenses, as so often happens. I find it mildly pretentious and too much like reading stage directions or having a camera following the action with a running commentary. But that's me and perhaps some people don't mind it.

Slow plot

The action in Bordighera, where our heroine, Bella has gone to look after a small boy belonging to a Jewish woman in the late 1930s is punctuated by fast forwards to 60 years later in London where she lies dying, tended by her 'granddaughter'. In this way, we learn more about what happened to her attempts to smuggle the child, Alex and his baby sister out of Italy to safety in England.

It's a slowly unfolding plot, long-winded and drawn out in parts, covering strands of information that don't appear to be particularly relevant to the actual plot at the time but that are, in fact, important to later events. It took quite a long time for our Bella to get to Italy and we had to follow her tedious journey and the family events at her London home that brought about her departure. This may have been deliberate as it leads up to and culminates in a faster paced crisis and climax. It left me with more questions than answers though, particularly, what happens to the baby when she grows up? And although the story begins with the reasons for Alex's piano teacher, Edward leaving Dublin and his journey to Italy in 1924, which gives it the dramatic start that we understand all good books need, giving the initial impression he was the protagonist, he then disappears from view until later in the story and never quite comes to life as a fully-rounded character.

Apart from that, the type was too small for me to read with ease.

1 comment:

LindyLouMac said...

Thankyou for calling by LindyLouMac's Book Reviews and commenting on this very same book, that we happened to review with in a few days of each other. I was interested to read your review and discover another Brit Book Blogger. I will be back as I hope you will be also. By the way I was pleased to note your comment on the size of the print, that made me feel much better, as I felt just the same!