Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: The Book of Jonah by Joshua Feldman

When I was offered a copy of The Book of Jonah by the publisher for review I was intrigued with the premise that it was a retelling of the Biblical story of Jonah in the form of a modern novel. This is the first novel by the author, Joshua Max Feldman.

Although I didn't expect to find the plot to include a whale that swallowed the protagonist, I did expect that the story would carry a discernible religious theme of the call of God on the life of an individual. However, I was disappointed to find almost no resemblance between the theme of the Biblical story and this novel.

The Jonah of this book is a young, Jewish, ambitious attorney whose career and romance are derailed by strange visions that he decides come from God but that do not bring him a clear message. The visions are erratic and confusing and so are his responses to them. The Biblical Jonah received a very clear message from God that he didn't like and did his best to avoid fulfilling. The Jonah of this book believes the visions are from God but can't interpret them.

After his dramatic termination from his law firm he crosses paths with Judith Bulbrook, a brilliant but deeply disturbed young woman who is also Jewish and whose emotional problems stem from the loss of her parents who were on one of the planes that crashed on 9/11.

Neither of the major characters are particularly sympathetic--but then neither is the character of Jonah in the original Biblical tale. The plot meanders between the two of them and then brings them together in an unbelievable turn of events at the end of the book. It is at this point that the author seems to remember that he intended to strengthen the religious themes of the story and suddenly they are made explicit but don't seem to relate to earlier development of the characters and the plot.

Ordinarily I would quit reading a book that I found unappealing at the halfway point or earlier, but since I had accepted a copy for review I was honor-bound to finish the entire thing. If the themes suddenly brought forward at the end of the novel had been developed throughout the narrative the novel would be much improved.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book Review: Dance The Moon Down by R. L. Bartram

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the guns of August--the outbreak of World War I. Dubbed the "war to end all wars" by American President Woodrow Wilson, it sadly was nothing of the sort as World War II followed close behind.

World War I marked the end of the Victorian/Edwardian era in Great Britain and is viewed as a watershed moment in its history. Dance the Moon Down by R. L. Bartram is a historical novel set in England during this time and centering on the experiences of Victoria Avery, an educated upper middle class woman of the period.

The strength of the novel is the author's ability to describe civilian life during this epic period of British history with a particular focus on the experiences of younger women like the heroine who lives through the changing social mores, brushes up against the rising suffragette movement, marries and suffers uncertainty about the fate of her soldier husband, and finds herself learning more about manual labor than she ever expected as she scrambles to support herself in a wartime economy.

However the weakness of the novel is that the narrative is contrived in a way to systematically place Victoria into every possible experience of women of this time so that it can be highlighted. Another problem for me was the failure to develop the plot and characters through the narrative of the novel. For example, the author often tells the reader what to think about the characters rather than letting their words and actions reveal their personalities. And too often the author reveals to the reader what is going to happen next rather than allowing the plot to develop without prophetic commentary.

That said, Dance the Moon Down is a thoughtful and well-researched portrait of the effects of the Great War on British society. I recommend it to those who are interested in social history and the history of World War I.

This is an Authors Online book and the author contacted me and offered me an e-copy for review. My apologies to him for taking much longer than I should have to finish the book and write this review and my thanks to him for the opportunity to review it.