BOOK REVIEW: LITTLE by EDWARD CAREY Little: A Novel (9780525534327): Carey, Edward: Books

This is easily my favourite novel of 2020. I loved it so, so much.

Edward Carey’s Little is the kind of novel that just ticks every single one of my boxes. To start, the writing is brilliant: it so effortlessly evokes a sense of historicity, bringing you into the late 1700s through its tone, its diction, its rhythm. But more than that, Carey’s writing is able to sharply capture the voice of its protagonist, Marie–and what a big-hearted and sympathetic character she is. Part of the brilliance of this novel is that you get to watch Marie grow up, following her pretty much from the moment she is born (she narrates her own birth, which is a trope I love) to when she is an old woman. And so you get to see Marie develop alongside the characters she finds herself attached to, and watch how the push and pull of those attachments alternately leave Marie alienated or supported. I cared so deeply about Marie: she is such a beautifully earnest character; she is smart and kind and gentle, and she wants so bad to prove her mettle, to be close to those she cares about. And yet so many times we see her marginalized, sent away, ignored, unacknowledged.

Scaffolding Marie’s character development is the most compelling and engrossing plot; it is not fast-paced so much as it is well-paced, taking us to various milieux, with plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep the narrative fresh and dynamic. And again, the writing is just gorgeous. Alternately whimsical, vivid, and affecting, giving you just enough character moments to be moving but always holding back at the right moments so as not to stray into sentimentality. It’s the perfect balancing act. (I was pretty much crying for the entirety of the last 20 pages.)

Little is, quite simply, the best story I read this year. I can give it no compliment higher than that.



The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

I feel like I liked this book more than a 3-star rating would have you believe, but I also didn’t like it enough to give it more than a 3 stars?

First thing’s first: Samantha Harvey can write. I read the The Shapeless Unease by her earlier this year and was so impressed by her sharp, affecting writing. That same writing is definitely present in The Western Wind, though more pared down so as to better service its story.

I’m not sure what to say about this novel, to be honest. The story starts out as an ostensibly simple one: a man has died, and a community must reckon with that death. But the narrative structure with which Harvey chooses to tell her story turns it into something much more complex. In particular, The Western Wind is preoccupied with time, with its linearity and circularity, the ways in which it is at once perishable yet continually recurring.

The atmosphere Harvey creates is especially memorable. The more you read this novel, the more you feel as though everything in this community hangs on a precipice, as if something monumental is about to happen. And yet the monumental has already happened: a man has died. But Harvey doesn’t let up the tension. The fact that the narrative is told in reverse chronological order–so that in the beginning of the novel you already know how it’s going to end–and yet still manages to surprise you with revelations the further on you read is truly impressive.

Yet as much as I praise this novel, like I said, I can’t give it more than a 3 stars. It was a little too slow for me, and I just wanted a bit more substance to its characters. Nevertheless, this is a finely honed novel and I can’t wait to see what Samantha Harvey writes next.


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Image result for the doll factory by elizabeth macnealMacneal writes well, but her book lacks a certain depth. Her characters’ motives are at once too transparent and too simple. You come to know The Doll Factory‘s characters, but that knowledge comes far too easily. The problem is that Macneal writes with an explicitness that leaves no room for the reader to figure anything out for themselves. Every feeling and motivation is unambiguously spelled out in a way that flattens rather than develops the novel’s characters. The result is characters so easily understandable that they’re rendered insubstantial. And so what you essentially get is the literary equivalent of giving a PhD math student a middle school math curriculum—what’s easy is not necessarily what will be interesting.

More than that though, and possibly even worse, Macneal’s characterization is often forced. I found this to be the case specially in her descriptions of Iris and her twin sister’s strained relationship. The strain in the relationship I didn’t understand very well, and the resolution of that strain I understood even less.

One more thing: I don’t like the way this story wraps up. For 90% of this novel, we’re focused on Iris’s story: her ambitions, her relationships, her emotions. And then suddenly the story turns into some kind of You-like stalker story with a completely different objective. It was jarring, and felt very markedly incongruous with the rest of the novel. Also, I just didn’t care about it lol.

Overall, a mediocre novel. It tries to do a lot, but never quite hits the mark.


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