As you (the two people that take a look at this blog at least semi-regularly) will doubtlessly have noticed by now, I’m reading consists mostly of fantastic literature these days. I do, however, occasionally stray into other genres as well (and sometimes even read a non-genre book), and this is what I’ve actually been doing for this week’s reading matter.
Deanna Raybourn, Silent in the Grave
First off, let me say that I was a bit disappointed with this book, but that this is not necessarily the book’s fault. Silent in the Grave is a historical mystery novel that takes place in late Victorian England, and while the period it is set in is what initially piqued my interest, the specific historical setting also turned out to be somewhat of a problem for me. I’ve been fascinated with the Victorian age for quite a while, and have read a substantial amount of Victorian fiction (all of Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, Hardy, as well most of Trollope). With those to compare to, it’s nigh impossible to not fall short; and while this novel’s ambitions certainly aren’t that lofty, one still has to ask why – seeing as the Victorians were so very prolific novel writers themselves – anybody would want to write yet another one more than hundred years later, one that can only be a watere-down, second-hand version.
Of course there can be veryc ompelling reasons to do just that as – two only name two – John Fowles and Julian Barnes have proven conclusively; but Deann Raybourn is definitely not a writer of their calibre, and doesn’t aspire to be, and in consequence Silent in the Grave had a rather hard time justifying its existence and giving me a reason to read it instead of, say, some Wilkie Collins.
All of which is not to say that the novel was a complete waste of time though. This not being reviews, I don’t usually give quotes from what I’m reading, but I find it impossible to not quote this:
To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.
These are the novel’s first two sentences, and it certainly is an intriguing start that is sure to sinks its hook in any reader opening the book and so much as skimming the first paragraph. Unfortunately, Raybourn doesn’t manage to keep up that level of involvement, and we are we regaled with a hundred pages of the heroine’s family matters before the possibility of that death being due to unnatural causes is even mentioned. And even once it is, the novel keeps plodding along, with not much of a plot, no sense of urgency at solving the murder and with a marked lack of vivid period detail to keep the reader’s interest up, who dozes during most of the voyage, only to be stirred awake from time to time by an unexpected sight.
Overall, the novel is much like its heroine – respectable, reliable and mostly drab, but given to occasional flights of fancy or flashes of brilliance that don’t quite manage to redeem it but keep one from giving up on it completely. To name but one example, at one point it seems like one of the heroine’s servants might be involved in the crime, and she finds herself forced to search her house for clues – but what she discovers instead is that she knows next to nothing about the people that have lived in close proximity to her for years, and the way Raybourn handles this discovery and her protagonist’s reaction to it are very touching indeed. It’s in moment like these where the novel shows promise of what it might have been, but failed to consistently achieve.
There is a second volume out in hardcover, and a third one announced… who knows, I even might give it another try once Silent in the Sanctuary is released in paperback.