Friday, May 21, 2010

interior vs. exterior

Small Island by Andrea Levy
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: When an author chooses to write a novel in the first person, they make a choice about the voice of the novel as a whole. The interior dialogue of a narrator must match their exterior dialogue. If the two don't match up, it detracts from the credibility of the character and the overall readability of the novel. The disparity between inner and outer voice is especially striking when the character speaks in dialect, as is the case here. The narrative switches among 4 characters, two native Englishpeople, and two who have moved from Jamaica to England. One of the Jamaicans speaks in a strong dialect, while the other is quite proud of her "King's English" even though she often finds that English shopkeepers don't understand a word she says. And yet the interior voice of both of these characters is largely the same as each other, and the same as the other two narrators. I found this disparity distracted a lot from the story.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

set pieces

After This by Alice McDermott
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: All in all, I really liked this book. The slow, languid pace somehow fits the story perfectly. My one complaint is that the story treats time almost like a stone skipping over water. At the end of one chapter, two people meet each other, and at the beginning of the next, they are married with three children and a fourth on the way. Then, suddenly, we are another 5 years or so in the future (references to WWII and the Vietnam War anchor the story generationally, but there's very little to give solid reference points as to how much time has passed from one point in the story to another). I understand that all the day-to-day details of family life are not the point of this book, but I did find it more satisfying when McDermott allowed us deeper into the lives of the Keane family rather than just skimming the surface.