Sunday, 3 January 2016

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters / The Bees by Laline Paull / Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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I think we've got The Paying Guests awaiting reading too, but my first Sarah Waters book, recommended by Dave's daughter Carrie, was Fingersmith. Set in Victorian era London the novel is a wickedly fabulous pastiche of the overly melodramatic literary style of the period and includes one of the best plot twists I have read in ages. Waters has created a varied cast of Dickensian characters, none of whom I would trust as far as I could throw them, and I also loved her scene-setting. The faded glamour of Briar House, the dingy terrace of Lant Street, and the terrors of the asylum all became very real as I kept reading. My favourite part of Fingersmith was the dual viewpoint. Seeing scenes that we thought we already knew, but now through a completely different lens provided great tension and I appreciated how each character had a distinctive voice so it was easy to follow their take on the story. Occasionally Fingersmith did feel a tad overlong, but generally the writing kept to a good pace and I was always keen to find out what would next befall our heroines.

The Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I have been intrigued by the premise of The Bees by Laline Paull since I read a number of other bloggers' reviews earlier in 2015 so I was very happy when Dave bought a copy for his Kindle. That Amazon Household setting means we get to share each other's books! Paull has obviously done a lot of research into the real world life of a bee hive throughout the year and this expertise shines through. However I was much less convinced by her humanising of them. I think my main problem with this novel was the massive contradiction of Flora 717's life. On the one hand we are constantly being told that each bee is born to a certain destiny and can absolutely never change her place in hive society. Yet our heroine skips through every class and job with scarcely ever a check on her behaviour. While I accept that this device allowed us as readers to visit every stage of bee life, for me it took away from the tale's credibility. With the exception of the wonderfully cartoonish drones, there isn't much in the way of fully rounded characterisation in The Bees which made it difficult to empathise and I always felt somewhat distant from the story. I did like how much I learned through reading The Bees, but as a reading experience it was lacking in enough depth to really keep my interest.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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Having loved Audrey Niffenegger's first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, I had looked forward to her second offering, Her Fearful Symmetry. Having now finished that book though, I am struggling to accept that the two were written by the same author. I really didn't enjoy the mish-mash of half-baked plotlines, flat characters and ridiculously convenient coincidences. And was I the only to feel uncomfortable at Robert's transference of his affections from Elspeth to her young niece?

On the plus side, Highgate Cemetery comes out of the book well - perhaps all that does - and I am now keen to take one of the frequently mentioned guided tours. This and the fact that I did struggle through to the final pages has merited a two-star rating, but I can't honestly recommend Her Fearful Symmetry to anyone.

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