Monday, 16 March 2015

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry ~ Gabrielle Zevin

If this book were a tin of varnish, it would be Ronseal Varnish: it does exactly what it says on the tin. 'Delightful. I read it in one sitting', writes Eowyn Ivey, author of 'The Snow Child' on the book's distinctive front cover.  And indeed, I did read it all in one go.  The New York Times Book review writes on the back cover that the author's touch is 'marvellously light'. This is also true.

On the inside cover, the blurb tells how this book is about 'how unexpected love can rescue you'.  All this is very interesting and, for the most part, undeniable.
However, nowhere on the cover, or on the book blurb, does it mention one, certain fact: that this book is a retelling of George Eliot's 'Silas Marner'.

Now, I must own that I really like Eliot's story, and when A.J. has his first 'blackout', I did think to myself, 'Oh, that is like Silas Marner.'  But when a prized, rare book goes missing and the island community rallies round, alarm bells began to ring.  Yet, it wasn't until  A.J. returned home to his book store to find a beautiful little girl where his treasure had once been, did I come to accept that there was no escaping it- the plot had Eliot stamped all over it.

Don't get me wrong, I liked this book.  As an avid reader and book collector, this novel has much to attract a person like me.  It refers constantly to what makes a good book, listing which books you ought to read and even the character-creations are book-mad. They are either publishers, editors, authors and even the local policeman is a crime-novel geek - not that unexpected really.  The setting epitomises the perfect booksellers hideaway; an island where book clubs are regular occurrences and everyone decides who to marry depending on which books they read (or do not read, as is also the case.)
There are even nods to famous novels in the naming of the characters: the ballet teacher is Madame Olenska, named after a character from 'Age of Innocence' perhaps, while the publishing company that Amy works for is a nod to Austen's 'Knightley'.  Maybe I stretch the idea a bit far, but such is this book; a dripping tap of literary references.
If you love books, and your favourite place to hang out is an overcrowded, over-stocked, bookshop, then you will love to step inside the world of this novel and meet some like-minded characters.  But, perhaps, like me, you might feel a little cheated that you were not forewarned about the borrowed plot of this book.  But, you needn't worry about that; now you know!
If this book were a tin of varnish, you might be disappointed.  It says Ronseal on the front, but you know it's an old brand, just with a different label stuck over the faded one.  It's a little cheeky, selling one thing as something else, and not even giving credit to Eliot, and the more I think of it, the more annoyed I become.
So, while I really wanted a nice, new book to read, I got varnish.... and that, my friends, is a sticky kind of metaphor that no one should ever have to deal with.