Peter Steward's Web Site
Second Glance - 21
Sometimes when I have read a novel and turn to reviewing it I find comments difficult to come by. Sometimes my head is so full of thoughts that it is difficult to know where to start. This book comes into the latter category.
It is a very strange, almost surreal work of fiction based on fact. Ultimately a ghost story surrounding a master race style selection process undertaken in Vermont in the 1930s, it is a complex and at times difficult to understand novel.
To start with the book is divided into three sections - the first and third take place in 2001 but the middle section, which goes a long way to explaining what is happening in the other two, is set in 1931. This does lead to some confusion. At times it's difficult to realise just how much information the author has allowed you to have earlier.
My main gripe with the novel is the ridiculous language it at times lapses into. Whilst the middle section of the book is powerful and well written, the first and third can be rather corny and I felt ultimately the book rather fizzled out. There were no massive surprises and the last pages turn more into an adventure tale than a ghostly mystery.
Getting back to the language. Picoult has a nasty habit of using "big words" in her text. At one point one of the characters actually picks up on this as part of a joke. But who really understands the words nictitating, ratiocinatively, catena, self-immolation of tropolgically - and these are just a few of those used.
Then there are sentences such as "Here I am confabulating about myself."
Even worse are passages that are just cringeworthy. Take these as examples:
"She smoothed down her napkin and looked down at her chipolata sausage, nestled in a bed of polenta." or
"She decided to put a tourniquet on the past for once and for all until it just dessicated and disappeared" or
"He tasted doubt on her tongue and pain on the roof of her mouth. He swallowed these and drank again. Consumed she had no choice but to see how empty he was inside and how sip by sip she filled him"
That doesn't mean that the novel isn't without merit. It is a good read, it touches on a number of important subjects and lets us into a world that isn't that far from the Salem Witch trials in content or style. I would recommend this book, but you have to stay with it as in the first section numerous characters are introduced at almost break-neck speed and it is quite difficult to keep a tab on just who is who.
Plain Truth - 21
Very different in style and much less complex than Second Glance. The plot in this is fairly straightforward. A young Amish woman has a baby which dies shortly after the birth. The question is did she murder it or did it die of natural causes?
A top female lawyer with connections to the Amish world takes on the defence and the main questions are 1/ was the baby murdered and 2/ if so was it a deliberate act by the mother. As usual things are never quite what they seem but the success of this book lies more in the portrait of Amish life than in a murder drama.
The plain life is delicately observed and well painted and of particular interest to me as many years ago I had a tour of an Amish homestead in the area in Pennsylvania in which this novel is set. It even goes as far as talking about tourists having their photographs taken under the township sign for Intercourse and I am guilty as charged.
Once again there are some seriously yucky passages, but thankfully these are fewer than in Second Glance. Overall the book just falls short of the mark as I found the ending rather predictable and disappointing on a number of levels that I cannot discuss due to the fact that it would give everything away if I did. Suffice it to say the court appearance doesn't have a powerful finish.
Change of Heart - 22
Quite a complex book with a myriad of themes. A considerable amount of research went into writing this book and Picoult is as thorough as ever. I'm sure that one of the points of this book which deals with capital punishment, redemption and many other themes, is to provoke discussion on miracles and religion in general and as such it does succeed with some thought provoking passages. Where it fails is in a slightly implausible story, slightly wooden characters and a rather wonky ending.
Overall, however, a very enjoyable read that poses plenty of questions without really providing any answers.