24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

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Abby Reads: The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow by Fiona Barton
NAL, 2016, 336 pages

Fiona Barton’s The Widow is a debut novel about the life of a woman before and after the death of her husband, who has been accused of the kidnap and assumed murder of a little girl. Although Glen, the widow’s husband, maintains that he had nothing to do with Bella’s disappearance, both the media and the law are convinced otherwise. Now that Glen has died in apparent bus accident, the truth will out. With a nonlinear pattern and nebulous characters, Barton’s first novel is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The Widow came to my attention through Book Riot’s podcast, Dear Book Nerd. Show host Rita Mead discussed the book with glee, holding back spoilers for the “big reveal,” of the book and essentially convinced me to read it with her enthusiasm in an episode from several months ago. I generally prefer not to take recommendations from others, especially if I don’t actually know the person giving the recommendation. I should have stuck with my unspoken policy on this one, because, while The Widow was a quick read and not the worst book I’ve ever picked up, it’s not something I would have chosen for myself.

One of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to get into “adult” fiction (as opposed to the young adult or YA fiction I usually read), is that I’ve found many of the adult fiction “bestsellers” I’ve picked up have been shallow in various ways. The Widow was a prime example of this. Although there’s nothing trivial about the subject matter of (and if I haven’t made it clear by now, this review might use some upsetting language, concepts, etc., so read on at your own risk) the abduction, sexual abuse, and murder of a child (or anyone), I ultimately felt that Barton’s writing was more about pure entertainment than anything else. That might be okay for some people, but I personally feel that if you’re going to use a topic like such as in The Widow, there needs to be more substance than just shock value.

Part of what drew me into the novel to begin with was Mead’s promise that the twist was stunning. I’m always up for a big twist, so I went in expecting and anticipating it inThe Widow. Frankly, the “twist” wasn’t a twist at all. I can’t blame this entirely on the book because I obviously had some expectations going into it, but plenty of context within the book suggested a twist was coming – the nonlinear timeline, the withholding of information, the use of multiple points of view – and it simply never did.

This brings me to my next grievance: multiple points of view. The Widow is told in both third and first person, with chapters in which the widow, Jean, stars, being in first person and all else in third. Third-person chapters primarily focus on a police detective intent on proving Glen Taylor’s guilt and a journalist equally fixed on worming the real story out of Jean. Other characters, too, have their chapters. As a general rule, I dislike books that use multiple points of view or lenses and there are few exceptions where it’s done well. In The Widow, this strategy felt more like Barton’s attempt to do some literary tricks rather than attempt to accomplish anything. There was really no benefit to this method.

Barton’s writing style is campy in some places, particularly when she inhabits the mind of the obsessed detective. In moments as Jean, the author makes a naïve and child-like caricature of the character, which perhaps says something about Glen’s pedophilia, but never feels realistic or natural. The reader can hardly believe Jean is able to take care of herself, let alone keep the secrets she’s charged with and harbor conflicting feelings about her late husband. Drawing from her own experience as a journalist, Barton also writes her journalist character as a quippy woman I’d sooner expect in a cheesy-ish cop show.

The Widow is a surface drama, never truly assuming the literary fiction it could be, but failing to deliver a cohesive and comfortably-flowing plot. The book isn’t a total disaster and has its merits with small details that make scenes interesting, but it’s not a masterpiece.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex
Anchor, 2011, 384 pages

Ughhhhh. I can’t believe I’m writing this review. Okay, so here’s the thing – I don’t read a lot of trashy romance novels. And I name them as such with the utmost respect and objectivity. Like, I enjoy plenty of other trashy things, like puns and terrible memes and crappy romantic comedies. Trashy romance novels have never really been my thing, but I’ve always appreciated them as an important piece of human (American?) culture and, yes, feminism. I won’t get into the weeds on why I feel trashy romance novels (TRNs) can be the epitome of feminism. I’m sure there’s plenty of literature on the topic for you to explore and this particular post is not about the intersection of TRNs and feminism. Sorry.

I tell you all this because, when I picked up Dracula in Love, I certainly expected some elements of the TRN, but didn’t really get the sense that was about all it would be. And, yeah, okay, you could make the argument that the book is more than a TRN. In fact, the author’s afterword says as much. Karen Essex took the time to write out this really rather well-done piece on how the book is a critical look at Victorian prudishness and the feminist sexual revolution and such. And, sure, if you read the novel with that in mind and with the intent of finding such content, you could probably pull out a good deal of passages that will agree with that argument. But, let’s face it, like myself, most readers will pick this up for a fun read and never get to the higher-level capital-P Point the author was (apparently) trying to make. The fact that the author tries to impose this meaning (after having done so either poorly or too subtly in the book itself) bothers me.

But also, the book. The book itself. So much of it is a deficient attempt at mimicking Victorian language, culture, and so on (but, yes, still with a feminist twist(?)) and it just goes on. Dracula in Love, despite the title, is not really about Dracula at all. Dracula’s presence isn’t a real force in the book until two-thirds or so through it. The majority of the book follows Mina and Jonathan Harker, both of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mina, the woman in which Dracula is supposedly in love with, has her teaching job and her friends (who, frankly, are infinitely more interesting than she is), and her fiancé-turned-husband. But as it turns out, she also has a history which Dracula is all too happy to share with her.

There are simply too many things going on in this novel, particularly as things start to make sense (or, pretend to). Too many relations, too many explanations, too many characters, and, in the overly-flowery pretend-style of Victorian literature, too many words. And maybe that’s part of the point: excess.

It got to the point where I skimmed much of the book. The flailing about and wandering paths away from the central story weren’t enough to keep me engaged. Every turn of the page, I was rolling my eyes.

But, I want to reiterate – if trashy romance novels are your thing, this might be right up your alley. And I hold no judgment there. Again, please, tease me mercilessly for my love of trashy romcoms or Silly Bandz. I don’t mind. But I think I’ll be more careful next time I pick up anything that even resembles the TRN.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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