Monday, September 20, 2010

Just Shelved

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I resisted this book at first. I wondered what Caro Bell (the character with the most page time) had to offer besides being an incongruous challenge for men to fall in love with; falling in love with her seemed to say something about their characters, but did little to illuminate hers. I also bristled at some of the prose. As with many elliptical and lyrical prose writers, Hazzard's overreaching imagery coexisted--sometimes awkwardly-- with searingly beautiful turns of phrase.

I was miffed. I also kept reading. And opened the book on my lunch hour. On the bus. Late at night. Early on a Sunday morning.

I was surprised in the best way, the way I remember being surprised by Anna Karenina long ago, in that characters who had originally seemed outside of the central drama, writ large, were illuminated with the same inquisitive brush as the ostensible central figure of mystery. Love was walked into like sudden, perilous games of cards. All or nothing. The highest of stakes. In the end, I had the most sympathy for those that had originally seemed the least interesting. I saw myself in them. The perilous love endured, this time the way a bus lumbers past every hour or so, and everyone notes it and thinks, "Yup. Still running."

Meanwhile, the England of the setting is modernizing. Women are working in offices. Caro Bell never ages and wears delightful scarves at all times.

And, then--

--one of the best and most finely-executed plot twists I have ever encountered in a work of fiction. To say more would give something away. But wow. Characters are unmasked; all is not as it has seemed.

Four stars: earned with grit and gristle.

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