[Review] The Visionist written by Rachel Urquhart

The Visionist - Rachel Urquhart
The Visionist
Author: Rachel Urquhart
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK Fiction
Date of Publication: 27 February 2014
Number of Pages: 400

Rating: 2.5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: In this exquisite, transporting debut, 15-year-old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm, killing her abusive father. She and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called The City of Hope. It is the Era of Manifestations, when young girls in Shaker enclaves all across the Northeast are experiencing extraordinary mystical visions, earning them the honorific of “Visionist” and bringing renown to their settlements.

The City of Hope has not yet been blessed with a Visionist, but that changes when Polly arrives and is unexpectedly exalted. As she struggles to keep her dark secrets concealed in the face of increasing scrutiny, Polly finds herself in a life-changing friendship with a young Shaker sister named Charity, a girl who will stake everything–including her faith–on Polly’s honesty and purity.

Review: Thankfully, it is an exceedingly rare occurrence that a book of 400 pages has virtually no content. This is to say, nothing really happens. There are an extraordinary amount of words but few of them equate to anything.

The story is told by three different narrators. All three are written as though we should accept them as reliable narrators, however, all three are unreliable. Their characterisations are thin and not nearly strong enough to carry the story. The only “adult”, Simon, is slightly too modern and contemporary to be convincing. He also tells the reader, in every segment, how much he dislikes his employer. A note to all authors, we do not need to be bludgeoned with the same fact at every available opportunity.

Polly is a sympathetic character but again, she is underdeveloped so I really cannot say more.

Charity, a Shaker Sister, seems plausible but the writing casts her as brainwashed, ignorant. While, not having experienced “The World” this isn’t wrong, there is something about the prose style that makes me uncomfortable with this.

The Shakers themselves are portrayed, in the most part, as mean and self centred.  Life experience tells us that just because an individual commits to a religious way of life, they don’t automatically become a good person. A religious life alone does not redeem a corrupt soul.  In The Visionist this feeling of meanness is exacerbated by the diametrically opposing characters of Sister Charity and Elder Sister Agnes.

The minor characters, connected to Simon, are given all the knowledge of Polly, her brother and her mother and this is hidden from the reader until the last few pages. All the recurring problems of ownership are neatly wrapped up in the matter of sentences. As for the development contained in the last few pages, no. This is a disturbing and strange way to end a novel. It makes me wonder if Urquhart was leaving her options open for a sequel. I certainly hope not.

In all, I found this to be an inadequate novel and I am somewhat disheartened to open another book lest I be left with similar feelings.


[Review] The Bookshop Book written by Jen Campbell

The BookShop Book - Jen Campbell

Title: The Bookshop Book
Author: Jen Campbell
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group UK, Constable
Date of Publication: 16 October 2014
Number of Pages: 288

Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books.

We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops.

Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France; meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains; meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine.

And that’s just the beginning. 

Review: It is difficult to review a book that reads like a shopping list of places I want to go. The passion for books is clear in Campbell’s writing and the passion was enhanced by the inclusion of interviews and first hand accounts from other writers and bookshop owners. The segments are nice and short so you’re not overwhelmed with information though there are some parts that suffer from being so short. I also felt there was a change in tone once the bookshops were situated outside of the UK. Towards the end of the book, the descriptions of the bookshops read exactly like that, descriptions. The last 10% was very dry. Admittedly, someone from the later included countries might feel the same about the UK section. EDIT: I forgot to mention that Campbell includes two, TWO, Australian bookshops. How, out of a country the size of Australia, did she only find two?

Overall, a good short read but not one that will leave you wanting more. I feel bad ending on a negative but this is the kind of read you pick up when you need a break from the rest of your TBR list.

July in Review

Well July wasn’t a good month but I predicted this would be the case a little while back. We’ve been busy moving premises at work and my parents are visiting from Australia so the last few weeks have been a whirlwind. I’m still ahead of schedule with my reading but you’d never guess that from July.

august 15

[Review] Mr Mac and Me written by Esther Freud

mr mac

Title: Mr Mac and Me
Author: Esther Freud
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ)
Date of Publication: 11 September 2014
Number of Pages: 305

Rating: 3 stars [DNF 55%]

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary: It is 1914, and Thomas Maggs, the son of the local publican, lives with his parents and sister in a village on the Suffolk coast. He is the youngest child, and the only son surviving. Life is quiet – shaped by the seasons, fishing and farming, the summer visitors, and the girls who come down from the Highlands every year to gut and pack the herring.

Then one day a mysterious Scotsman arrives. To Thomas he looks for all the world like a detective, in his black cape and hat of felted wool, and the way he puffs on his pipe as if he’s Sherlock Holmes. Mac is what the locals call him when they whisper about him in the Inn. And whisper they do, for he sets off on his walks at unlikely hours, and stops to examine the humblest flowers. He is seen on the beach, staring out across the waves as if he’s searching for clues. But Mac isn’t a detective, he’s the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and together with his red haired artist wife, they soon become a source of fascination and wonder to Thomas.

Review: Freud has a writing style which makes this book very readable. The story itself, however, is dry and unfortunately, quite dull. At 55% I found I could not find the energy to continue on of find the desire to know what happened in the end. The pace of the novel is, far too slow, plodding and repetitive. The voice of Tommy, the storyteller, no matter how convincing, isn’t enough to sustain an entire novel. Tommy doesn’t suffer from the false naivety that some young narrators do and that is a blessing.

There is a strange feeling of being disengaged from the characters – Mac is a ghostly figure, Mrs Mac has red hair, Tommy’s father is a drunk, his mother is overprotective but almost careless at the same time. There is an interesting teenage romance that peters out and a lot of discussion of what kind of ship is being sketched but that link and connection just doesn’t appear.

The slow pace of the text may be a device to indicate how life in a small village during war time carries on but this would have worked better from the perspective of an adult. This device fails and bogs down an otherwise decent story. I had been looking forward to reading this novel but feel disappointed overall.