Teresa read this novel by Sadie Jones a year and a half ago, and I’ve had it on my radar ever since. When I saw it on my library shelf, I picked it up to read. But despite Teresa’s excellent review (which you should click through and read as a refresher, because I’m not going to re-summarize the plot), I wasn’t prepared for the way this book thrashed about, turning from one thing into another.
It’s actually a common feature of “strange stories” (a phrase beloved by Robert Aickman, master of the genre) that they begin by not looking strange at all. So I’m not complaining about the notion that something supernatural might have a beginning that didn’t foreshadow such an eventuality. Instead, I’m complaining that this felt like two, or possibly three — or, wait, maybe even four — different sorts of stories stuck together almost at random, with the junctions so hastily papered over that it was difficult to find time to care about the characters, and an unearned happily-ever-after ending. There was a light and predictable romance. There was an exceptionally nasty and bitter drawing-room farce (even Evelyn Waugh never went quite this far — maybe Edward Albee?) There was a gee-Miss-Smith-you’re-beautiful-when-you-take-off-your-glasses scene. There was a child-in-distress plot, complete with pony, which wavered between unpleasant and hilarious. There was the family-home-in-danger plot. And there was the supernatural bit, sort of floating (hah!) through it all.
What, pray, was Jones doing with this frittata of a novel? There were some good bits, and there were some tedious bits, and there were some execrable bits, and it was impossible to say which bit was coming up next. After the halfway point, I wound up skimming a lot, looking for the good bits, and I don’t know that I was entirely successful; a book that felt this disjointed is hard to read by skimming, and I may in fact have helped myself feel that it was disjointed.
Oh well. You can’t win them all. And mark the calendar, ladies and gentlemen: this — this! — is the first book in many years that Teresa and I have disagreed about! Will it be a duel to the death? Will I have to send her flowers to apologize? (Or possibly books?) Tune in for the next episode…