This one wasn’t for me, so I had to put it down. It’s very well written, a joy to read, and easy to sink into. For readers looking to escape into a book with allure, this one might scratch that itch.
Where it fell short for me was in the very justification for why I was reading it. I generally don’t like books that appear to take my interest for granted, and one of the ways a writer can avoid tripping that particular wire is to pay heed to the inciting incident. In other words, answer the question, “why does this story begin today?” While this one is a braided structure with dueling narratives of Addie in 2014 New York and 1700s France, the former is seemingly a way for us to tour the city and the latter is a decent origin story that then mirrors the 2014 story in its wandering. I understood why Schwab told me the story of Addie first being cursed, and that arm of the braid was compelling to me until it wasn’t. I grew too frustrated with the other arm of the braid (2014), which seemed hyperfocused on demonstrating how Addie survives in contemporary New York. That isn’t enough story for me, personally, though others may find it fascinating to ponder.
The other, perhaps more substantial, trouble for me was I felt Addie was little more than the product of her curse. It’s interesting to look at her in each braid and see how she’s changed over the centuries, but from our point of view, it is only the curse that has done that to her, not the decisions she’s had to make and the external pressures applied to her, which are generally more interesting in a character development sense. Moreover, two-hundred-year-old Addie isn’t really all that surprising. She’s about what you’d expect of a person afflicted with such a curse. Though the first hundred pages make a point of mentioning some kind of defining, traumatic event that shaped her, I felt the author’s hand here, holding me at bay, denying me something compelling for reasons that weren’t clear to me. If that traumatic was so character-defining, why not tell me that story instead of the literary equivalent of a tour through New York City? If the book does contain that story, I didn’t understand why I was being taken through the mundane instead. An argument could be made that the boredom and monotony was precisely what Schwab intended me to feel, but here’s the thing: we humans already get enough of that, so if that is, indeed, the point, it shouldn’t take 100+ pages to get a reader there.
I just wasn’t convinced Schwab knew, herself, why she was telling me this story, and I felt her trying to figure that out. At this point in my life, I just don’t have the patience for that anymore. There are too many compelling books out there, and I feel my time here growing shorter. It’s okay to put down books that just aren’t doing it for you.
The silver lining here is I’d never read Schwab before and her prose was enough to intrigue me to read more of her work. I didn’t like this one but hope to pick one up with more apparent narrative purpose. If you like books you can sink into and wander without too much narrative drive, you might like it. It’s clear from the ratings on Goodreads that many others have enjoyed the book quite a bit.