Saturday, January 03, 2009

People of the Book

I really wanted to read March, which I saw in my parents' bathroom when I was home, but my mother, frustratingly, was in the middle of it, so I took Geraldine Brooks's most recent novel, People of the Book, instead. My mother loved it; I thought it was a page-turner but I'm not sure I even liked it. (That's one gorgeous cover though. All that gold seems perfect for a book that centers on an illuminated medieval book.)

It's one of those books that has a split narrative: One is the primary, contemporary story of a woman charged with conserving an old, illuminated Haggadah; the others tell us about key episodes in the book's past. The problem I always have with that sort of book is that I'm much more interested in one section than the others. This time around I was much more invested in reading about the contemporary woman than the people from the past--there was really not that much suspense there since we know the book survives and Brooks doesn't really do much to make the episodes in the past absorbing, unfortunately. 

If the main story was brilliant I think that would be OK, but that's not the case. Instead, it all leads up to a plot twist that's too convenient by half, with a hard to credit, deus ex machina ending. I stayed up late reading only to find myself annoyed enough by the ending that it ruined the book for me. It's like Brooks thought there needed to be more plot excitement in there and shoehorned it in even though it didn't belong. Frustrating. She should have just trusted her subject to be interesting without suddenly trying to turn it into some kind of international thriller at the end. 

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