Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tracy Chevalier, BURNING BRIGHT

I found this book on the Bargain table, which surprised me because I remember loving GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING. But while TC is still the master of historical detail ... and she's got the 18th century down ... Astley's, Vauxhall, pubs, carpenter's tools, how to make buttons, the kinds of wood used in chairs ... this book felt somewhat plotless and lacking in suspense. The entire plot consists of a family moving from Dorsetshire to London and then back again; the time period is 1792-93 (surely an exciting time in England); and the next door neighbor is William Blake (hence the title ... from his poem "Tyger, Tyger"). But paradoxically, although not particularly well-plotted, the book felt formulaic: lots of historical detail + famous, eccentric artistic personality + everyday characters. For me, it wasn't enough. Add to that the contrivances ... young Jem believes that two sides of the road aren't opposites because they're both sides of the same road ... he espouses this belief to young Maggie, just as Mr. Blake is wandering by and is struck by how the young man's philosophy matches own! This might work if the three of them gathered together at the Blakes' house, but this scene happens on a bridge, in London, after Jem has left a circus where there are thousands of people milling around. Similarly, at Astley's Amphitheater, with hundreds of people jammed around him, Jem looks up from the pit by the stage to find "Maggie's face up in the gallery, poking out between two soldiers." Really? Amidst all those people, he can find her face?? Hate to be so critical ... but after GIRL, I was hoping for better ...

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