One of the things percolating in my brain as the new year rolled around was a plan for blogging about books. For a couple of days, I even considered starting a whole separate blog dedicated to books I’d read, planned to read, etc. Then I realized…duh, Aimee, you have a blog – an all-encompassing blog – and books would fit in there nicely. (Yes, I’m not always the quickest out of the starting gate.)
Before I kick this thing off, I have to say, the main reason I’ve resisted writing book reviews in the past is twofold. First, I have no desire to write a blurb or synopsis of each book I read, and blurbs seem to be the standard way to begin when writing about books. Second, I don’t consider myself expert enough in literature to “review” writing at all. Edit? Yes. Write? Sure. Review? No.
So, what’s changed? It hit me (again, a little late), that if I don’t want to blurb or synopsize (new word) or review (in the strictest sense), who’s saying I have to? It’s my blog, after all, and my thoughts on the books I read are as valid as the next person’s. I can link to other people’s blurbs or synopses, and I can make my reviews whatever I want them to be! I may not be a literary expert, but I know what I like. (So there, critical inner voice!)
And now, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I bring you the first in the series Aimee Reads:
Not Yet Drown’d by Peg Kingman (W.W. Norton, 2007)
I read it January 6, 2010.
Read a blurb on the author’s site. Congrats to Ms. Kingman – this is her debut novel! You can read an interview with the author at Loaded Questions.
Why’d I read it?
It caught my eye on the library shelf and, upon further inspection, proved to be a historical fiction (yay!) partially set in Scotland (double yay!).
What I thought
The story is compelling, a mystery with an undercurrent of romance (isn’t there always?) which takes place across several distinct cultural situations: in Nineteenth-Century Edinburgh Society; aboard a passenger-carrying merchant vessel; and in India as seen from a European point of view.* The research behind the novel was obviously extensive, covering bagpipe music, Scottish poetical debate, the opium trade, the tea trade, revolutionary steamship propulsion, Indian outcastes, and even a line-crossing ceremony aboard the merchant vessel. (The last was particularly interesting to me, since my father experienced his own welcome to Neptune’s Domain as a young U.S. Naval officer about forty years ago, and it was fun to compare and contrast the two.)
The characters and their relationships were enjoyable. I liked the portrayal of Catherine and Hector’s relationship immensely. There was just enough sniping to remind us that they were siblings. I also enjoyed the forays into Sharada’s point of view, and I would have liked to see more from Annie’s. The budding relationship between Catherine and Mr. Flemming didn’t hold my interest; it almost seemed an afterthought.
The language in Not Yet Drown’d took some getting used to. While the author created beautiful imagery, some of it was almost flowery, and a few times I was struck with the thought that five words were used where one or two might’ve done. (I don’t suppose I have much room to complain in this regard, as it’s something I’m quite guilty of.) Nevertheless, I grew used to the language after a couple of chapters and soon lost myself in the storytelling, although I’ll admit to having skimmed quite a few of the more drawn-out passages regarding steamship propulsion, as well as some areas where the author recounted a lot more detail than was necessary for the telling of the story. (I’m not alone in this, as some of the characters themselves often tuned out their shipmates’ ramblings!) The overall conclusion of the book was somewhat predictable, but the extensive path taken to get there was not.
“Mr. Clerk’s ballroom was like the inside of a headache.” Lovely!
“Profits have a way of illuminating matters.”
Would I recommend it?
*I make this distinction, because the vision of a land under occupation/colonization varies greatly depending on the eyes of the person through which we see it. It would seem unfair not to clarify that the India we read about here is not quite the same India experienced by her native people.