Monday, June 28, 2010
Emmy Hamilton is having a hard time adjusting to her new status as a widow. Her husband, a soldier, has been killed in Afghanistan, and though time is moving forward, Emmy just can't seem to emotionally recover. When her mother suggests that she relocate to her old hometown of Folly Beach, Emmy is not really receptive to the idea. But when she finds out there is a bookstore for sale on the island, Emmy begins to reconsider. Soon she is the owner of Folly's Finds and she sets out to make some improvements to the small and colorful shop. She also begins to get to know the previous owner's family, including Heath, a man who has his own scars and resentments. As Emmy begins to organize her new store, she comes across a group of old books that seem to have secret messages inside them. Further investigation reveals the lives and secrets of an old branch of Heath's family. The only surviving member of the little group is Heath's old curmudgeonly aunt Lulu, who guards the secrets of the past with intense fervor. As Emmy and Lulu's stories intertwine, we learn of life in 1940's Folly Beach during the war and of the painful love triangle that consumed the lives of Heath's family: a story that is fraught with tension, secrecy and age-old deceptions. As Emmy fits the pieces of the story into place, her life begins to change as well and she comes to discover what those who have gone before her also have learned, that grief and heartache are but a season of life, and that sometimes it's alright to move on.
I have been reading a lot of great reviews on this book lately, and frankly, it made me a bit nervous to get started with it. You see, I can't help it sometimes. The hype gets to me and I ultimately feel let down. Sometimes hype just ruins things for me. That was why I had almost given up on this book before I had really begun. I guess that I just assumed that this would be another over-hyped read and didn't really give it much of a chance. Either that or the first section of the book started a bit slowly for me and took some time to build up. Whatever my preconceived notions were, I am glad to say that after some initial misgivings, I ended up enjoying this book a whole lot.
This book is organized as a dual narrative, with the sections about Emmy's life in the present alternating with the sections of Lulu's life in the past. Because the book is written in third person, both stories retain their immediacy and don't really compete for vitality or dominance. It was interesting to me that my favorite sections of the book alternated between the past and the present and that both sections sustained a great amount of tension and drama. There was a lot of sadness in this book but I didn't feel that it was particularly overdone or maudlin and instead felt that the book explored grief in its many permutations and disguises. It was nice to see both of the stories come full circle and mesh together at the end and I felt that all the aspects of the plot were really well balanced.
I also liked the characterizations in the book. I felt that the author really developed her characters well and that their actions spoke loudly towards the truth that had been written for them. It became very pleasing to read along, knowing what type of reaction certain scenes were going to get by the various characters, and instead of being predictable, I felt that the characters' attributes were really gelling in a believable way. I also liked that the characters were multi-dimensional. The negative characters especially were imbued with some really positive qualities and it was hard not to sympathize with them in some ways and understand why they did the things they did. The only character aspect that I had trouble with was Emmy's nosiness. At times she felt a little too nosy, if you know what I mean. As she tries to piece together the truths of Lulu's past, she often makes people uncomfortable and digs further than is generally acceptable. I felt that this was a bit rude at times,and though I still liked and appreciated Emmy's story, I think she could have calmed down a whole lot and still got the same things accomplished.
The historical detail in this novel was wonderful and I felt it was very well written and researched. Part of the story deals with the German U-Boat invasion and the discovery of a ring of German spies who had infiltrated different parts of the United States. White does a wonderful thing in the historical aspects of her book by making the past come alive and telling her story with strength and fervor. It was a tough call for me but I would have to say that I favored the historical sections just slightly and thought that it was in these scenes that the book excelled. As a reader, I got a really interesting account of what life was like in the 40's during the war and just how rationing, shortages and wartime affected the people of Folly Beach. These sections weren't just the backdrop for the story, they were more like the bones which held the body of that half of the narrative together.
I also must say that I totally adored the fact that much of the book dealt with a book shop. Though it wasn't a main focus of the story, a lot of incidentals and anecdotes had to do with the shop and I was always happy to see them. Old books and the secret notes written in them also have their place in the narrative and it was lovely to see some favorite classic titles mentioned within the scope of the story. I loved that most of the people in this story were bookworms in one way or another and thought that this invented Folly Beach was somewhere where I felt I could fit right in. The book also included a bit about a lighthouse, which was another bonus for me, as I love them too.
I thought that this was a finely crafted story that really seems to live up to the hype. The author excels in both her characterizations and her plot, which made this a really full bodied read for me. Though it took some time for this book to ramp up for me, I did end up getting pretty deeply enveloped in the story and think that other readers would probably feel the same. The book would appeal to those who like historical fiction, light romance or books with a great interlocking set of stories. I am so glad to have discovered this book and to have given it the chance it deserved. A rich and compelling read.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.