Inveterate, incurable readaholic, who blogs about books and what's in 'em. If readaholism is a deadly disease, no problem. Couldn't imagine a better way to go.
Every once in a while, one has the luck to stumble upon a truly gifted author. An author who can do it all: craft a spellbinding story that refuses to loosen its grip on the reader; conjure up a space-time continuum and transport the reader there; give birth to vivid, but nuanced characters that almost leap off the page to inhabit one’s minds’s eye; and wield the written work with as much artistry and flair as a master painter with his colors. In my humble opinion, I stumbled on just such an author when I picked up Diane Setterfield’s first novel.
Truly, I don’t know what I loved most about this book. First, the story was expertly molded. With the use of flashbacks, Ms. Winter spun her story to young biographer Margaret Lea, but the present time also had its twists and turns as Margaret conducted her own research into her subject’s life. The slipping to and fro between past and present was seamless and built excitement.
Just when Ms. Winter’s flashback story of her strange and somewhat disturbing childhood would ensnare me and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, the author would switch to present time, whetting my appetite, building my curiosity. But one didn’t mind the change in the time continuum because the present time story was just as compelling, just as spellbinding. I had very little clue where I was being led at any given point, but wherever it was I wanted to follow, and I never guessed the truth of Vida Winter’s life until the author laid it out. It was such a joy to be totally flabbergasted.
Secondly, her characters were multifaceted, believable, and vivid. I could envision them, wonder about them, care about them. I wanted to puzzle them out. For instance, as I read, I didn’t know whether to like Ms. Winter or not. She never really lets people into her life, even the reader. She’s imperious and controlling, and one senses she has always gotten her way. She’s uninviting and not the least bit gracious or comforting in nature, but one also senses vulnerability and that perhaps the superiority is all an act born of necessity… perhaps, she has built a wall around herself and her emotions to defend against anyone getting to close and learning her secrets.
Her young biographer, Margaret Lea, is rather like her, though much more approachable. Margaret has also closed herself off for reasons that are not apparent at first, but Margaret is not so off-putting. One immediately feels empathy for her.
Finally, simply put, Diane Setterfield has a way with words. Her prose is some of the finest in modern writing that I’ve seen, casting beautiful images in unique, creative ways. I was fascinated by the unusual ways she chose to describe the most mundane of things. For instance, here is a passage regarding memory lapses:
At the moment she first learned the facts of Charlie’s departure it had brushed her consciousness momentarily, but had not found a place to settle there. The passages, corridors and stairwells in her mind, that connected her thoughts but also held them apart, had been undermined. Picking up one end of a trail of thought, she followed it through holes in the walls, slipped into tunnels that opened up beneath her feet, came to vague semi-puzzled halts: wasn’t there something….? Hadn’t she been…?
In short, I have no problem giving this book 5 stars. I wish I had more stars to give. Ms. Setterfield is officially on my list of authors to follow, and I only pray she doesn’t disappoint after this first breakout novel.