Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Book Club - Gardens of Water by Alan Drew

This should have been the new Kite Runner!

I came across this book a few weeks ago; having now read it and discovered it was published in paperback over a year ago, I have to ask myself how it managed to pass me by for so long?

Ok, so the cover isn't exactly appealing, and there was a real lack of publicity; but these just seem like poor excuses. To be frank - I couldn't put this book down. And I can't believe I haven't heard about it from someone, somewhere...

The story begins in Turkey in 1999 when devastating earthquake brings the busy life of Istanbul to a halt. Its impact not only strips Sinan and his family of their home and livelihood, but also takes away from Sinan his confidence as a father, husband and religious man. As he struggles to cope with memories from his past, keeping his family safe and his daughter's ever-growing infatuation with an American boy; Sinan begins to make desperate decisions, setting himself and his family on a path of unimaginable consequences.

And it's difficult to find anything in this novel to criticise. The prose was engaging and evocative, and managed emotional depth without being overly dramatic or sentimental. There were occasions of truly beautiful, vivid descriptions and the carefully and quietly controlled suspense kept me hanging on till the very end.

The characterisation was intelligent and well balanced. Despite each character being used to represent a somewhat stereotypical viewpoint, none appeared one-dimensional or forced. There was naturalness about each character, as they all battled their own internal struggles alongside their new difficult surroundings. The complexity of humanity is effectively captured.

The only thing I could bring myself to fault is the ending, and even this I fault half-heartedly. The ending appeared rushed - as all loose ends are suddenly tied up in a few pages; yet with hindsight, the ending was entirely suitable. It wasn't what I expected or hoped for, but it was plausible and fitting to the rest of the story. I fear any other ending would have detracted from the seriousness and emotional impact of the plot preceding that point.

I loved the rich variety of topics in the novel, all of which were dealt with in depth: politics, war, history, family, love, wealth, race, religion, natural disasters, despair and hope. Still, I think what I admired most about this novel was the easy-to-read narrative style. I admit that at the end of each chapter I expected to find it difficult to get my teeth into the next. I decided it would be impossible to maintain the high level of intrigue and natural flow through a chapter break, and change in narrative viewpoint. I was wrong. This book was a real breath of fresh-air, and definitely a page-turner.

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