This book is obviously an attempt to emulate the lengthy and intricately detailed novels of the Victorian era, like something Dickens would have written (Bleak House came to mind as I read it). Unfortunately, it falls far short of that mark, and instead was just overly wordy, repetitive, and slow-moving, without feeling like there was much substance.
The plot progressed very slowly, structured through constant flashbacks that awkwardly shifted from one character to another without furthering the plot very much at all. It often felt like felt like something that would have taken a minute in real life was drawn out of several pages, with much repetition. Conversations between two people would have them repeating the same phrase back and forth, or the inside thoughts of one character would be repeating and rehashing what was just detailed by the narrator or said by someone else.
Ultimately, the biggest problem was that all this detail felt like it was lacking proper substance to it. It was all just fluff, like being giving an airy ball of cotton candy when you’re hoping for a rich piece of dark chocolate to really bite into. Even if you try to savor the experience of wading through all those wordy passages, in the end, you don’t feel like you really got much out of it, despite all the effort.
I do appreciate what the author was trying to do, especially her efforts to make the language and style fit the time period. The book just didn’t quite work though, and it felt like I was reading the transcript of some sort of interactive, immersive video game, with rather heavy amounts of hand-holding, rather than a great work of historical fiction.
The premise seemed interesting, but I didn’t feel as enthused once I got a few chapters in. I wasn’t always convinced of the time period, partly due to the language, and it felt like a lot of heavy-handed telling rather than showing right off the bat. After several tedious conversations, some clunky turns of phrase (“a tiara of sweat?” really?), and a liberal sprinkling of ten-dollar words throughout, I had to bail.
How true should historical fiction be?
“From Hilary Mantel to Andrew Miller to Philippa Gregory, historical fiction is enjoying a boom. But novelists are storytellers, not history teachers, argues Stephanie Merritt”
(From The Guardian Books Blog, March 19, 2014)
Personally, I think historical fiction should aim to be as accurate as is reasonable within the format, and that authors writing in this genre should do some research into the era and/or people portrayed.
Obviously, I don’t expect a perfect representation of actual historical events, like an exact transcript, and I do expect some embellishment and poetic license. But making the setting, characters, and even language true to the time period help paint the picture and keep you in the story.
I read at least part of this book in college — in the original German — but I’d forgotten just how strange and twisted of a book it is. It’s rather intense overall, especially with the style it’s written in. It’s quite detailed and rather heavy at times, but it’s well-written almost throughout. There were only a few parts, especially towards the end, where I didn’t feel as captivated, usually when there was repetition of certain events.
As for the story itself, it’s quite difficult in many ways, and quite often. Disturbing, emotional, twisted, tragic, and lots of other “fun” stuff. Not surprising given our narrator, who seems to be precocious and talented, but also wicked and a bit insane as well. The other characters are all quite intriguing in their own ways, but you end up questioning how much you can trust the narrator in all of this, especially given the things he does to the others.
I think I’m glad I read (or re-read) this book, but I don’t know that I will be re-reading this in future. It’s such an intense book, and I can appreciate it for what it is, but I think I’ve had my fill, for now at least.
I wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t do it for me. I felt like I was just swimming through a tangle of words, trying to figure out what was going on. This felt like writing for writing’s sake, like showing off you know about words, rather than to properly tell an interesting story.
Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it with this book. It doesn’t seem as compelling as some of his other novels (Dreamland, Paradise Alley). It kept jumping back and forth, making it hard to following, especially with so many characters to keep track of.
The story sounded like it would be interesting, but the book just didn’t deliver. I thought I would be reading about a real person, not a character “inspired by” a real person. And I didn’t really expect the heavy focus on the main character’s childhood. It just didn’t really keep my interest, and parts of it felt superfluous, like the whole orphan train episode. (Would they really have sent a kid out West and then just let them go back to New York?)
The writing style also got in the way quite often. Not only did it feel a bit stilted at times, but the use of dashes instead of proper quotations for dialogue, as well as the asterisks on certain words, kept slowing me down and pulling me out of the story.
I didn’t realize this was by an author I’d tried to read before, but I figured I’d give it a try. The first chapter seemed really good, so I thought I’d keep going. It wasn’t as strong after that, but I thought it was ok, though I credit that to having been sleep-deprived. I got a good night’s sleep, and then I realized that this wasn’t the book for me. I didn’t like the characters, and the writing was so sappy and overly wordy. Just too annoying in so many ways.
I wanted to like it, but I couldn’t take the style of writing for Sacajawea’s chapters. I get what the author was trying to do, but it made for really difficult reading, what with no capitalization of proper names and rambling sentences to only vaguely explain things. It didn’t really make it feel like she was on equal footing with the other characters.