I didn’t like this book.
From the first chapter, the writing style irritated me. It is completely overzealous in its description – too much metaphor, too many similes and just excessive use of adverbs and adjectives. Sentences such as, ‘she hangs in quiver of cold sea’, seemed like a desperate attempt to be poetic but for me stood out so much that they completely distracted from any characterisation Forbes was trying to build in the initial chapter. It seemed amateur and as though it needed a thorough editing!
Then comes my second issue: the characterisation of the protagonist, Katherine. The story is told in two temporal and interchanging sections: Belfast in 1949 when Katherine is a young singer and, twenty years later, in 1969 when she is married with four children. The whole story is basically based on Katherine’s selfish love affair with Tom, a tailor who makes her costume for a performance of Carmen. She begins the affair despite being in a two-year relationship with George who has recently become her fiancée. I understand things aren’t always black and white, particularly in a love story, and usually grey area is what makes a story interesting, however in my opinion Katherine’s actions with Tom can be in no way interpreted kindly. I had no sympathy for her or her dilemma that follows – she acts callously and unthinkingly, taking advantage of the loyal George, even if he is a little dull.
However I did prefer the sections of the novel set in 1949, mainly because there was at least something going on. The later sections set in the 60s feel slow and overworked – yes, we get it, Katherine feels preoccupied with guilt or whatever, can we move on??
To its credit, the novel does have a couple of unexpected twists. I would never have predicted the ending which leaves you with a lump in your throat (even in spite of my dislike of Katherine’s character). The novel can also be praised for how it creates a completely personal drama while set in the politically fraught time in Belfast in the late 1960s. This exploration and portrayal of family life is good and it is a shame that the writing style gets in the way.
Although I’m not a writer and so I’m probably not qualified to give advice, I would suggest to Forbes that she stop trying to write like someone else, like the lyrical writer that she is not, and instead she should focus on her plot, which, putting my irritation aside, is actually pretty good.