It was two weeks ago when I was zeitgeist-pop-lit-culture-pressured into reading the hyper-hyped unto death The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (read about that HERE) and was sore disappointed. And cranky. I hate it when I invest my hope, energy, and time in something so large that I’ve been promised will be juicy and satisfying and am left feeling nothing but exhausted and empty; but, as they say, it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it. Thus, I was reticent when faced with Lauren Owen’s The Quick‘s five-hundred-plus page length and its lit-site, pre-release, hack reviewer and lit-webber buzziness. Plus, the effusive cover blurbs by Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, and Tana French — three awfully well-known names for a debut novelist — led me to believe that Lauren Owen had a very connected agent (or powerful publisher) who had called in some favors.
This is from the Random House website [click HERE to visit]:
For fans of Anne Rice, The Historian, and The Night Circus, an astonishing debut, a novel of epic scope and suspense that conjures up all the magic and menace of Victorian London
1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England.
In her first novel, Lauren Owen has created a fantastical world that is both beguiling and terrifying. The Quick will establish her as one of fiction’s most dazzling talents.
Okay, “most dazzling talents”? Hmm … suspicious. But, the cover was a gothic, sepia toned beauty of bookshelves and torn curtains. Of course, I bought the book. I’m a sucker for big, handsome things and promises of “gothic” and “macabre” and “elegant” and then when it was described as “creepy”… well, I’m easy. Can’t help it.
So, now, I’m done. It had its way with me and I’m left feeling sore — its size strained my arms — and a bit used. A little cheap. On the plus side, it was a fast read — despite its length. But, here’s the thing, or, rather, things.
First; there are too many narrators. The story leaps here and there, told from different perspectives but there is so little difference in the voices that — for me — it was difficult to keep track of who was who, when and where, and, frankly, why? I don’t think the switches added or aided or abetted the telling of the tale.
Second; I don’t like reading all those hundreds of pages to find I’m being set up for a sequel. Give me an ending. Even if the ending is precursor to the next beginning.
Third; in my review of The Vacationers [read HERE] I expressed my weariness of reading about rich, white people if there’s not going to be something new, insightful, unique, and fresh about the story. Same goes for vampires. And, sorry, but withholding saying the word through most of the book and again conflating them with what we now call “gay” doesn’t qualify as fresh. It limns an awfully predictable arc of action and character. This is a story we’ve read before and characters we’ve seen before. I recommend Anne Rice. Interview With The Vampire. Far more atmospheric. Far creepier. Far more fun.
And I say, again, I bought this book. Full price. So I’m writing from the perspective of a real consumer, a real lover of books, a person who prioritizes his budget this way: Books. Everything else. So, I feel as if the powers that be — you “real” reviewers and book bloggers and agents and publishers — who go crazy for these big-sells-next-big-things are doing a disservice. It’s all too “the boy who cried wolf” anymore. In fact, Quebert and Quick are both perfectly serviceable, okay, reasonably enjoyable summer reads. But to blow and blather and boast them into stratospheric “must reads” is — ultimately — harming the industry. I don’t expect critics and bloggers to be publicists. I expect them to tell me the truth — and, if the endless list of folks who have gone on and on with the adjectival orgasms about this latest batch of “brilliant” novels HONESTLY believe what they’ve written — well then, they are hacks. And if they don’t believe it — well then, they are liars or being paid off.
Then again, maybe I’m just a curmudgeonly old grouch who expects that when a book is said to be very, very good, it will actually be, at least, you know, GOOD GOOD and not a formulaic piece of marketable dead trees (or bandwidth).
Thanks for reading.