The basics: The Art of Devotion, Samantha Bruce-Benjamin's first novel, is told through the voices of four women: two mothers and two daughters. The lives of these families criss-cross in a variety of ways on a beautiful Mediterranean island.
My thoughts: I really wanted to like this book. I adore novels told from multiple points of view. I like stories of family secrets and interconnected generations. I like historical fiction (it's set in the first half of the 1900's.) I like books set in exotic locations. What kept me from loving this book? It was oh so very melodramatic. Bruce-Benjamin was so busy having the four narrators tell us what they were thinking and feeling the characters never actually thought or felt anything. The pacing was bizarre and unsuccessful for me. All of the narration read like a memoir; each woman's emotions were presented, but for most of the book, the reader didn't actually know what events they vaguely referred to. There was an omen of something happening, but there was no real mystery or intrigue. By the time the truth(s) were revealed, I no longer cared. The book was so devoid of plot the only real story became the emotions of the women, and their emotions were overwrought and redundant. Not only did I not care what was going to happen to them, I didn't care what had happened. They were all so melodramatic and over-the-top (and the reader doesn't know why until the end) it was difficult to muster sympathy.
While I was reading it, I kept forgetting it was set in a different era. There were no historical clues or references. I suppose the argument could be made that this novel is timeless, and while I technically agree, I'm a reader who enjoys a strong setting. Bruce-Benjamin took great care to describe the island frequently (and similarly) from four points of view, but there was no mention of time aside from the section headings.
The verdict: There was potential for a good story in this novel, but the crucial events were revealed last, and it took far too long to get there. The narrative was overwrought and melodramatic. I hope Samantha Bruce-Benjamin finds a way to tighten her narrative voice in her next novel.
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: a far-too-long 400 pages
Publication date: June 8, 2010 (paperback)
Source: I received this book for review via Crazy Book Tours from the publisher, who compared her writing to Ian McEwan and Anne Right. I respectfully disagree.
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