Date Read: May 14 to June 10, 2018
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
I’m still a bit torn in how I feel about this one. In many ways, I did quite like this book, but much of it also does not feel quite right for me. I debated between 3 and 4 stars on this one, and decided on 4 based on some things in the structure of the novel that I felt were interesting.
I like the premise of the novel, but the plot was rather plodding. There seemed to be so much going on individually with each character, but really, not much happens in terms of actual plot development. The same goes with characters. While I do think there was some personal growth for each of the family members, I think it was pretty minuscule considering the span of a lifetime. At the same time, I think this works for the novel on some levels. Isn’t that kind of how life works sometimes? Every person has struggles and triumphs, but if we were to lay them out as a dramatic timeline, most of us would find our lives to be rather dull. In the moment, events seem big, but often they do not turn out to be as monumental as we presume. At the same time, big is not the same as consequential. Everything, to some degree, is consequential. And then contrasting this (or perhaps complementing it?), is Caroline’s “big moment” of realization when she simply looks at her small family through the window of their home.
This leads in to what I mentioned earlier about the structure of the novel. The story spans approximately 25 years in around 400 pages. There are time jumps, several of them rather significant. In each case, these occur at the climax of a dramatic event, leaving no direct resolution. Everything is resolved (or not) behind the signs, and we learn how each of these played out based on characters’ reflections on the past. While I could see this as something that could annoy many readers, it’s not something that I have seen done before, and I thought it was an interesting choice on the part of the author.
There is, of course, one major lacking: Phoebe’s perspective. While the novel does not take a first person view from any character, we do get to see life from the perspective of the main characters: David, Norah, Paul, and Caroline, but never Phoebe. We learn that she likes cats and music, knows how to weave, and has a boyfriend that she wants to marry. But that’s really about it. That’s a huge discredit, especially for the title character. I think it’s unfortunate that in a novel that very much promotes that idea that she should be viewed as a person and not a disability, we do not get the opportunity to see the world from her eyes.
This is going to seem nit-picky, I feel like I need to mention it since I am still thinking about it. I feel like there was a lack of attention to detail on the part of the author. For example, the book refers to Van Gogh’s Starry Night being viewed at the Louvre. However, Starry Night is not (nor has ever been) at the Louvre. In fact, there are no Van Gogh paintings in the Louvre at all. There are also some inaccuracies related to the times and distances traveled in a few places in the novel. While these are admittedly not major faults, they are things that irk me a bit. I knew immediately that these things could not be correct just from my general knowledge. I feel like these were errors that could have very easily been avoided with just a little fact checking.
Boris’s thoughts: “Phoebe likes cats? Well then I like Phoebe. 4 paws.”