16/11/2005

Village Matters

I have mixed reactions to Rebecca Shaw's novels. I read some reviews on Amazon UK recently: some rated her books very highly, saying they were exciting and believable; others rated her low, saying the books were badly-written without much character development.

I agree with both points of view! When I'm reading one of her books I find them both annoying and interesting at the same time. I determine never to buy any of them new, yet when I see another one at a second-hand or charity shop, I snap it up.

This particular book is third in the 'village' series about a fictional place in England called Turnham Malpas. It features the daily lives and problems of a fairly large cast, who are listed in the front of the book, and there's even a map showing where they all live. This particular novel focuses quite a bit on Craddock Fitch, the 'nouveau riche' (but rather brash) owner of the Big House. But we also catch up on the lives of Peter (the Rector) and his wife Caroline, and many others.

It's annoying because it's written informally, so that not just the speech but some of the writing doesn't flow well. There are frequently repeated slang or cliché phrases which I've never come across before (such as ending sentences with, '.. and not half!') and strange dialect spellings such as mi for my, which didn't read easily. There are also lengthy and boring conversations which might be realistic, but don't need to be written.

Moreover the characters are fairly flat: distinguishable by their jobs and families, but requiring frequent reference to the list in the front. They're not necessarily consistent, either. And while there are many subplots, it's hard to keep track of what the book is really about.

It occurs to me that it's like a TV soap, in a way. Or at least, the whole series is. I've read a few others, so I do have a sense of familiarity with the characters, and a slightly surprising interest in their lives. I will probably continue to find second-hand copies of the rest of the series (I believe there are eight or ten altogether) and yet will be irritated by the lack of style in the writing.

Not really recommended, other than for those who enjoyed the earlier books in the series. If you're intrigued, start with 'The New Rector' which is the first.

No comments: