03/01/2013

The Gift (by Cecelia Ahern)

On the whole, I like Cecelia Ahern's novels. Having said that, I was not all that impressed with her first and best-known book (PS I love you); however, I've picked up subsequent novels she has written, usually in charity shops, and on the whole I've liked them. They mostly have a hint of the supernatural - or surreal - and are light, but well-written.

So when I saw 'The Gift' for a little over a pound in a British charity shop last Summer, I had little hesitation in buying it. And while it sat on my to-be-read shelf for some months, I picked it up mid-December, thinking it would be a pleasant light read for the Christmas season. I didn't have much time for reading, but expected to finish it fairly quickly, reading a few chapters each evening.

In the event, it took me over two weeks to get through this book. It's not that it was a difficult read. But it was very strange and not at all uplifting. It wasn't as quirky as some of the author's other books, but decidedly bizarre.

The entire style is rather strange, too. For this is a tale within a tale. It opens on Christmas morning when a teenage boy, angry at his parents, throws a frozen turkey through a window. He is taken to a police station and then - to while away the time, or perhaps to distract him - is told a long story about a guy called Lou whom the police dealt with that morning.

The majority of the book is about Lou, a workaholic who neglects his family. He makes promises that he can't keep, and frequently wishes he could be in two places at one time.  His life changes one morning when he meets a homeless man called Gabe. It's never spelled out in the book who Gabe really is, but my suspicions were raised almost immediately.  With the Christmas theme and the events that gradually unfold, it becomes fairly obvious.

Lou buys Gabe a coffee, although he's not quite sure why he does, and then - out of character again - offers him a job in his mailroom.  From there on, the story gets odder and odder. We see a few glimpses of Lou's long-suffering family, but most of the action takes place in the office. It's not at all clear why Lou is such a workaholic, or even what he gains from the long hours he works.  Gabe eventually gives Lou some tablets which have a very peculiar effect which temporarily seems to make his busy life rather easier. Only it's not that simple...

As I read, I kept finding myself forgetting who was whom (other than Lou and Gabe) and was slightly startled when there was a temporary return to the teenage boy at the police station - a part of the story which seemed almost irrelevant, and made the narrative jar. Moreover, I really struggled to like Lou. It's not much fun reading a book where the main character is tedious, so that didn't really encourage me to keep going.

Lou does start to feel more human towards the end of the book, and I began to feel that perhaps there was some hope for him... and then there's an extremely depressing conclusion.

The moral of the story is clear - don't neglect family for work - but this is not at all a light and frivolous Christmas story. I kept reading, wondering what would happen, but some nights it was tempting not to bother. Having said that, the writing is good and the main part of the story mostly flows well... but when I'd finished, I rather wished I hadn't bothered.

Really not recommended. If you like this author's writing and don't mind a heavier, somewhat depressing read, then I would suggest looking out for it second-hand rather than paying the new price.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 3rd January 2013

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