I loved the concept of this book. What a clever way to write an historical novel by beginning at the end and working back to the beginning. And the metaphor of the movies was a clever setup. But what a disappointment this turned out to be.
I am a reader who has enjoyed three of Ms. Waters’ previous novels, TIPPING THE VELVET, AFFINITY and my favorite, FINGERSMITH. So I was surprised to find that I really couldn’t keep going after about page 340, in the middle of the middle section set in 1944. So what went wrong?
First of all, the writing was far too static. The tension in the novel was simply not milked for all it was worth. The character I found most interesting was Duncan, the troubled young man. I think this novel would have been much stronger if it had been told exclusively from his point of view, using him (of course) as an unreliable narrator. That would have created at least some tension, plus an interesting puzzle for the reader to figure out when he was telling the truth and when he was lying. This is quite a technical challenge for the writer, but one that I am sure someone of Ms. Water’s formidable gifts could handle perfectly well.
And that brings me to my next point. Ms. Waters takes a tremendous risk in having several protagonists telling their stories. While this method of story-telling gives the novel a certain kind of richness, the problem for the reader is that it is too jarring to be thrown from one point-of-view and into another. In this book there were Kay, Duncan, Helen, and Viv. While it is possible that a 530-page trade paperback could encompass four protagonists, the problem with this novel is that we have to keep changing point of view so fast. In Chapter One, for example, we are in Kay’s point-of-view for just six short pages before we are flung into Duncan’s. Speaking for myself, I just found that too disorienting.
Lastly, I agree with other readers who found the plot problematic. I thought there were not nearly enough plot points to make this interesting. We learn that Helen is in a frustrating relationship with Julia who seems about to ditch her for a smarter woman. Then Viv is carrying on with a married man. But neither of these affairs interested me very much because they seemed entirely predictable. Instead, I wanted to know more about Duncan, and his friend Fraser. Three Stars.