Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review - Canvey Island by James Runcie

Synopsis from publisher:

IT IS 1953 IN CANVEY ISLAND AND A STORM SURGE IS flooding the streets. Len and Aunt Violet are out dancing on the mainland, he in polished shoes with slicked hair, she in fur stole and long gloves. Back at home, Len’s wife Lily and their small son Martin fight to stay above the rising waters, waistdeep in a raging black torrent. When Lily’s foot is lodged beneath debris, she begs Martin to get help. This sight of his mother, ghostly in her drenched nightdress, is his last glimpse of her alive. Lily’s death is an unbearable rupture in Martin’s life that lets in a host of unwelcome developments, not least that of his father’s growing closeness to his flashy aunt Violet. When Martin goes off to Cambridge to study water engineering, he breaks all ties to Canvey Island and settles down with the bohemian feminist Claire, a rebellious vicar’s daughter. But when Claire takes her activism too far by taking their daughter to a peace camp rally, Martin drifts back to Canvey Island and into the arms of his teenage love. He finds himself drawn into his old world, its secrets and lies, its wounds and passions, its sacrifices and hopes. Profoundly moving and elegantly written, Canvey Island tells the story of changing times in post-war Britain through one family’s tragedy and loss.

My thoughts:

Canvey Island could have been a real hit for me. It had the potential to be the type of novel I fall in love with. It uses multiple narrators, which is a device I enjoy, when written well. And I liked the writing - there were many passages I thought were beautifully written, expressing feelings and describing situations in ways that gave me chills. I should have really enjoyed this novel - but I really didn't.

Honestly, this is my problem with Canvey Island - I just kept liking the characters less and less as the novel went on. This is a story which has as its major plot point a woman drowning. We follow her son, her husband, and her sister as they try to create lives for themselves in the wake of this tragedy. These are characters who, by their very nature, should tug at our heartstrings. But the longer I kept reading, the less sympathetic I felt. It just seemed like everyone spent so much time WHINING about how hard things were - and because the author used multiple narrators, we got to hear EACH and EVERY character take their turn. Granted, many bad things happened. But, as in real life, many bad things were the cause of their own bad decisions, and by the end of the novel I just didn't care.

So I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. For me, it was disappointing.

Finished: 3/9/09
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Rating: 5.5/10

Don't just take my word for it - here's what another fabulous blogger thought:

Megan at Leafing Through Life

Challenges: New Authors Challenge


Megan said...

Sounds like we're both on the same page with our reviews of this book! By the end I was just so bored with the ceaseless introspective whining that I just got more irritated with every passing page. While I'm not glad you didn't like it, I *am* glad I'm not alone in my dislike!

Zibilee said...

I totally understand the disdain for all the whining. I just finished a book like this, and it was a real chore to continue, with the non-stop complaining. Sorry this one didn't work out for you.