Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Lake of Dreams

Our July book for Page Turners was The Lake of Dreams, by Kim Edwards (who wrote the best-selling The Memory Keeper's Daughter). It's a contemporary fiction about a young woman (Lucy) who returns to her home town in upstate New York after living abroad for several years, and finds herself exposing a concealed family history linked to the suffragette movement in the early 20thC, while dealing with a host of unresolved family issues a decade old.

This is a novel firmly grounded in the past. The main storyline deals with the discovery of some old suffragette literature, letter fragments, an heirloom blanket embroidered with a distinctive motif and some stunning stained glass windows that instill in Lucy a desire to know more about how they are linked. As she researches the history of the documents and the windows, and discovers the names of family members she never knew existed, Lucy finds herself becoming more and more immersed in the unfolding story, until she becomes almost obsessed with uncovering the truth of a long-ago family scandal.

Playing at counterpoint to this, a major secondary thread explores the tensions and potential scandal within the modern branches of the same extended family. Central to this is the mysterious death of Lucy's father in a boating accident a decade before, and Lucy struggles to deal with unresolved relationships and the inevitable progression of lives and business decisions from which she has deliberately distanced herself.

On the whole, The Lake of Dreams is a pleasant enough story that has enough detail on the suffragette movement to interest and enough sense of mystery to motivate the reader to keep reading. It also explores themes of environmentalism and religious feminism.This is actually the kind of intriguing tale that I expect to like.

However, it is badly let down by two incontrovertible factors:
  • First, it is riddled with a host of minor internal inconsistencies (often to do with timing) that repeatedly pull the reader out of the story. To me these are mostly the sign of a really bad edit. 
  • Second, it is riddled with inaccuracies -- some minor and some major. Most of these relate to the use of Halley's Comet as a motif to connect events in 1910 with those in 1986. The most severe of these is the implication that the comet appeared in the night sky for just one night in each of those years. This may seem like a minor point (and it has little bearing on the story) but for me the blatant and repeated error really irked. This is a sign of poor research.

From a more subjective viewpoint, there were other things that fell short for me as well. Most of the clues rely on serendipity for their discovery, and then prove to contain exactly the right information all nicely laid out. And then I was underwhelmed by the ultimate revelations -- I had very little emotional connection. I found the main character (and narrator) Lucy a little whiny and the entire novel's almost relentless focus on the past became a little tedious, particularly when the reader is subjected to multiple scenes of Lucy in bed 'reflecting'. The novel feels padded and over-written too, with many superfluous scenes/transitional paragraphs, excessive stage-management detail, and extensive metaphorical descriptions. (Once again, many of these problems could have been overcome with a better edit.)

There are probably heaps of readers out there who would love this book for what it is, without noticing or caring about the things I'm picking on. And there are some things I liked too -- for example I found the characters to be nicely complex with interesting relationships and realistic family dynamics. But on the whole I'm disappointed. (There are some very polarised opinions on Good Reads!)


In writing this, I've realised that I haven't posted on any of the other Page Turners books we've done this year, so I thought I'd include a short wrap-up:
  • March - The Winter of our Disconnect, by Susan Maushart. I half-blogged about this here, but obviously never got around to wrapping up the book. A shame really, because it was interesting (although I didn't quite finish it).
  • April - The City and the City, by China MiĆ©ville. I had already blogged about this book here.
  • May - At home: A short history of private life, by Bill Bryson. Hmm, I didn't get past the second chapter of this one.
  • June - We have met the enemy, by Daniel Akst. I got about a third of the way through this one, and may read some more and blog on it one day . . .

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