If I had only known that this book came with discussion questions in the back, I could have saved myself several hours. Only Harlan Ellison’s “The Deathbird” makes good use of this feature, and it’s still twee and pretentious there. When publishers are seriously presenting book clubs with pre-made questions, it’s even worse for being seriously meant.
I bought this book on sale (fortunately) because it was recommended by several authors I respect. I am sad to say they were all on crack. This is a well-written book with a somewhat intricate plotline, but not intricate enough to repay the reader for a lame ending and several unpleasant thematic features.
1. Fear of crucifixes.
I really don’t understand this one, but it keeps showing up in modern novels. Apparently, half the world is made up of vampires now, as they are hopelessly traumatized by every Catholic holy picture they see. Comparisons to S&M and snuff films are de rigueur, which suggests some mighty strange things about what today’s writers find spiritually uplifting.
2. Nobody is ever celibate by choice. Even for five minutes.
If you’re not having sex like bunnies, you obviously were traumatized at some point. If you are unattractive and try to have sex, it will never work out. Unless and until you have sex with someone of the same gender, of course. This is magical, and makes you attractive and able to have sex like bunnies.
3. Religious vocations are a sure sign of unhappiness.
Not that this separates one from being a layperson, actually. But there is no peace to be found in a convent or a seminary. Obviously these people are just suppressing the urge to have sex with someone of the same gender, so they can become attractive providers of sex like bunnies.
4. Marriage never lasts, and neither does any other kind of love.
5. Children are always in danger, and always pawns of adults and their siblings.
6. Women are always in danger, and always pawns — unless they kill people.
7. Women are made weak by pregnancy and child care. No woman ever enjoys the process.
8. Men are made weak by women and children; they can only stay strong and unaffected by being total psychos.
To be fair, there is a certain amount of argument against these views. But the plotlines seem to insist that this is indeed what the author believes. (Nobody ever enjoyed being pregnant or having a baby, even the tiniest bit? Sheesh, don’t these people in England eat well enough, or did all the big strong agricultural women move to America?)
There were a few likable characters in the book, but the author did her best to ruin them before they fled her hands: making them act like idiots, or putting them into situations which in real life would be extremely abusive, for the sake of very implausible forms of happy endings. For their sake, I will pray that there be no sequel.
Jonathan Edwards’ God had nothing on Kate Atkinson. This is fairly typical of today’s authors.