Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Tailor's Daughter by Janice Graham

I picked this book up because it was next to Jo Graham's books. After reading the synopsis and the first page or so, I was drawn in by two things - the protagonist is deaf, which seemed an interesting and unusual premise, and the writing style is similar to my own (except ten times more polished). As I was reading the beginning, I thought, damn, if I was going to write about someone waking up and realizing that they're deaf, this is just how I would write! The honest and direct description of the girl's experience and the keen focus on her experiences and senses... It seemed too carefully and artfully crafted to be just a romance novel.

The elegant writing, which conveys so much in a simple way, captivated me to the end. This description blew me away:

"I left Rushcross Grange just after dawn, crossing through a quilt-work of pastures before turning north into the rise of fells beyond which lay Blackroak Hall. There, I left the ridge and struck straight into the heath, wading knee-deep through the scrubby grey growth down to the narrow hollow which I held as far as New Mill, after which I turned away from the beck into high moorland heath. All morning the sky was dark, and ominous clouds threatened rain that never fell, although the wind smelled strongly of it. I passed a farm at which I had lodged only the previous month and caught sight of the Kertons and their children on the slopes above Moor Close cutting peats. Farther up the vale, a row of men moved along the hillside scything bracken at a languid rhythm that belied the tremendous power behind each stroke. Their old bearded sheepdog froze and kept me fixed in his sights until I passed by on the path below. In the shaded vales, black-faced sheep grazed in folds cut out by low drystone walls, but farther up in the open moorland they seemed but isolated fixtures on the vast treeless landscape. Even in the early summer, with the bleak fells fleshed out in soft hues of greys and greens, and the hay meadows rich with wild flowers and grasses, it seemed an unlikely place for human habitation." (page 340)

The verbs! The conciseness! The way it carves out an image in the mind! I only hope my writing is half as good.

Although I enjoyed reading the book, I have a big gripe with its title. Part of that is probably due to having read an article on "How not to title your novel" at the start of November, because unfortunately, the title falls squarely into its net of "samey titles." To me, it's a boring title that doesn't capture at all what the book is about or excite or attract the reader (to be honest, I picked it up with the faintest of faint hopes that it might be fantasy novel). In my opinion, a novel's title should capture or at least hint at the theme, but there is nothing profound in this title. There could at least be a reference to the fact that the main character is deaf, never mind to the way she struggles against class and gender restrictions to pursue her heart's desires.

For most of the novel, the plot progressed in synch with the elegance of the writing - at a very measured pace, with much attention given to all the various experiences of the main character from her teenage years onward - family tragedies, her own illness and deafness, her friendships and romantic interests. For most of the book, things moved slowly and nothing happened suddenly - which I didn't mind, because I was captivated by the main character and the little excitements of her life (*SPOILERS*) such as having a slightly scandalous portrait painted, cross-dressing in order to work as a tailor for gentlemen, and pursuing a seemingly hopeless love interest. (*END SPOILERS*) A review quoted on the back called the book's pace and style "Victorian," which certainly fits. Near the end, however, the excitement amped up, some melodrama ensued, and (*SPOILER*) everything worked out in the end in an almost magical fashion. (*END SPOILER*) The sudden melodrama and fortuitous ending proved that the book really was a romance novel, no matter how much I would like to think otherwise. But it was definitely a romance novel worth reading. I learned much from Ms. Graham's style, and I was entertained and touched by the story along the way.

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