The Tenth Circle (by Jodi Picoult)

I have only read a couple of books by Jodi Picoult so far, although I have another three on my to-be-read shelf. I picked this one up from a church bookstall a couple of years ago; the cover looked appealing, the blurb on the back intriguing.

As with others by Jodi Picoult, 'The Tenth Circle' is quite a powerful novel which examines some contemporary issues in a realistic way. I read ten pages or so each evening for a while, but by the time I was half-way through, I could scarcely put down. The theme is a clever idea: the novel explores the dark side of ordinary humans - the deep-down tendencies towards violence, deceit, betrayal, and so on, no matter how well we manage to hide them. Interwoven with the storyline are excerpts from one character's university lectures about Dante and his 'circles of hell', where he allocates different punishments for different kinds of offenders. There's a bit of discussion about modern day equivalents, and a gradual realisation that, worse than anything, is lying to oneself.

My main problem with this book is that most of the characters are decidedly unpleasant. They're not just ordinary people prone to error; some of them are a mass of deception and anger. Trixie, the 14-year-old main character, starts off by deceiving her father and going to a party where some crudely sordid 'games' are played. I almost gave up reading at that point - and as the book progressed, I liked Trixie less and less. Really the only appealing person in the book is her father Daniel, a comic book artist (American style) who grew up in Alaska.

Still, the plot is well structured and the writing is very good. I had not expected some of the things that arose, although I could see the ending from several chapters earlier. Unfortunately the last section of the book (set in Alaska) is, frankly, rather dull. It felt as if I were being educated about something which held no interest for me, and it didn't feel realistic. I then thought that the ending, when it came, was too abrupt.

Interspersed in the text are some dark strip cartoons, supposedly intended for people who grew up loving Superman and other such comic strips. But while I hesitate to be sexist, my impression is that children who read this kind of thing are usually boys, whereas Jodi Picoult's readers are mainly women. And many of them, like me, will not be able to make any sense at all of the dramatic visuals with terse capital letter text. I gave up on them after struggling to understand the first one; I have no idea if I missed anything as a result.

Overall I'm glad I read it, but I hesitate to recommend it due to some of the subject matter.

Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic, in Kindle form as well as paperback.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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