Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Title: The Swallow: A Ghost Story
Author: Charis Cotter
Publisher: Tundra books
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

This is yet another first person PoV. I began it thinking that fortunately, since this one isn’t YA per se, maybe it wouldn't be as bad as some of the execrable 1poV YA novels I've had to endure, but this is also one of those novels which has, as chapter headers, the name of the person narrating that section, which means it's 1poV, but with (in this case) dual perspectives.

It seems to me that if you have to do this, then you've chosen the wrong voice for your novel. Experience has demonstrated quite conclusively that 1poV is almost always the wrong voice, and the problems you generate by choosing that route are compounded if you make the first person more than one individual. The truth of this became clear as soon as the two narrators began interacting, and it became a confused mess.

So we have Rose and Polly jointly narrating this one. Winnifred Rose McPherson was in 1963, and lived in Toronto, Canada. She can see ghosts, which made for a very withdrawn child who feared that if anyone found out what she could see, she would be locked-up as insane. Polly lives (in the present or near present) in the same place with a large family, having three siblings of her own plus some children which her parents have fostered or adopted, so her home is crowded and Polly resents it immensely.

The author tosses in the tired trope of having both characters described themselves in the mirror, which is a no-no in this day and age. She has each of them list their favorite whatever, which is tedious. Who knows, maybe readers their age will appreciate a bald info-dump like that. I didn’t.

The story started to go downhill for me when one of the characters returns from the hospital after being confined there with a fever, and starts interacting with the other, one of whom lives at 41 Cemetery lane, while the other lives next door at 43. They become aware of each other in their respective attics where they're both either hiding-out or merely seeking seclusion. It’s pretty obvious that Rose died from the fever and doesn’t realize she's dead.

There is a slight math issue here. When Rose looks in an old family Bible to see if there's a mention of Winnifred Rose, she discovers a birth and death date: December 5th 1910 through January 8th 1923. This isn’t close to thirteen years - it's only slightly over 12, yet Rose considers it to be 13 years for some reason.

To cut a long story short, I couldn’t finish this novel. Rose and Polly develop a relationship, meeting in the cemetery and sneaking into each other's homes, and encountering some sort of evil ghostly presence, but it wasn't the least bit interesting to me. Maybe it will interest younger readers, but I find it hard to believe that any self-possessed twelve-year-old would really get a lot out of this. Maybe they would, but the novel seemed very old-fashioned to me, which I'm sure will appeal to some kids, but it seems too limited to appeal widely. I only made it a third of the way through, so perhaps I missed the good bits, but based on what I did read, this isn't a story I can recommend. it was too much to...swallow.

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