4 November 2015

Review: The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

For Bronte Fans

Lucy Alling works runs the showroom/antique store of Sid McKenna, a well-known Chicago interior designer. She’s also in charge of the books, and that’s how she meets James Carmichael and finds a kindred soul. Almost …

The Bronte Plot is definitely aimed at those who love classic English literature, with an emphasis on the female authors: Austen, the Bronte sisters, Gaskell. I have to say that while I’ve read them all, I’m not as much of a Bronte fan as Lucy (or, I guess, the author), and I did find the continual literary quotes and allusions got tiring. I felt as though I’d have gotten more out of The Bronte Plot if I’d have read the complete works of the three Bronte sisters before reading The Bronte Plot, as though I was missing out on something (kind of like when you pick up the fourth book in a series and the author assumes you’ve read and memorised the first three, so doesn’t introduce any of the characters because they assume you know their life history).

The result was I found the first three-quarters of the novel less than captivating, even though some of the writing was outstanding and insightful. This could be because Reay’s last novel was one of the best novels I read last year, and I was expecting something similar. The last quarter of The Bronte Plot was excellent, and the whole story had a strong theme around truth, and I liked the way Reay approached that … even if the theme was occasionally a little heavy-handed, and made it feel as though Lucy was a less-than-reliable narrator. On the other hand, people do lie to themselves (surely one piece of chocolate cake won’t hurt my diet), so I guess that made Lucy ‘normal’. If there is such a thing.

But there were flashes of brilliance in the writing, such as these quotes:

“ There is no greater mistake than giving a client what she thinks she wants rather than something reflective of who she is.”

“Reading forms your opinions, your world view, especially childhood reading, and anything that does that has an impact.”

(Why it’s so important to read books with good messages … and why Lucy’s character doesn’t entirely make sense).

Lucy also has one revelation which will appeal to many of us: one character says he has “figured out how to make my passions pay.” I wish!

My other comment about The Bronte Plot is that I don’t see it as Christian fiction. Sure, Lucy and James don’t sleep together, but nor is there any suggestion either of them (or any other characters) are people of faith (although it’s pretty obvious the author is writing from a Christian world view). I would have liked to have seen more Christian aspects, although I guess that isn’t Reay’s style, and a Christian character who continually stretches the truth might have been a stretch to write believably and a stretch to read. As one character says:

“We’re all wired to crave and worship something.”

As Christians, we believe that ‘something’ is God, and we watch as people around us behave like some of the characters in this novel: chasing and craving and worshipping the wrong things. Not God.

Recommended to Bronte fans.

Note: there were a handful of errors in the London scenes which hopefully will have been fixed before publication. Covenant Garden? Oops.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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