‘Time is too short and good books too many to waste time reading books you don’t enjoy.’ – Andrea Goldsmith
One of the greatest losses I’ve suffered in becoming a writer is the ability to simply read a book. When I read nowadays there’s an internal editor sitting on my shoulder with a red pen slashing, amending, changing, critiquing. At best it’s annoying, at worst it destroys my ability to enjoy a book enough to finish it. I have to be honest, this is what happened with Gabriel’s Redemption.
The Reading Room generously provided me with a copy of this book to review. I was interested for two reasons. I have friends and readers who have loved this series, it’s had rave reviews so my expectations were high. And it’s a romance written by a man, so I wanted to see if a man did anything with the genre that was in any way different.
It all started well, but by the time I got to chapter thirteen I was disengaged. I cheated and jumped ahead to the final chapter to find no surprises. It ended exactly as I expected. And sadly I felt no remorse for not having read the other 75 chapters once I closed the covers.
Perhaps my lack of engagement with Gabriel’s Redemption is because I haven’t read the first two books in the series. Prior to starting I read synopses and a handful of reviews and felt that gave me enough understanding of the characters journey thus far to embark on the final in the trilogy. Maybe not knowing the details of their past was the reason the characters felt a bit flat and the story all high drama over what seemed to me to be low stakes.
But there were other problems I encountered. I struggled with some of the old stereotyping of men and women embedded in the story: The sweet, shy, demure woman whose only fault is innocence rescues the intelligent, handsome, accomplished and fault-filled man. (Sounds like the scenario of another enormously popular book, doesn’t it?).
And statements like this one really bothered me:
‘He wanted to drag Christa Peterson outside by her hair and teach her a lesson. Unfortunately, based on her seductive behaviour when she was his student, she’d probably enjoy it.’
There are so many things wrong with these two sentences, not least of which the underlying judgement that a sexually active woman would enjoy a bit of violence simply because she’s sexual. It just reinforces existing harmful views of women’s sexuality. And derogatory accusations of women sleeping around to further their careers are a bit 1970’s for me.
But the thing I couldn’t get past, the thing that really stopped me from reading further, was my internal editor. In the praises for Gabriel’s Redemption one reviewer describes Reynard’s writing as flawless. Maybe ‘flawless’ is in the eye of the beholder. Writers know there a certain rules to creating quality prose and Reynard breaks a number of them. Often.
At this point I should clarify, I’m no stranger to rule breaking, I do it a bit myself and quite like to see a rule expertly bent out of shape. But breaking writing rules is risky. A writer has one page, one paragraph, one chance to keep a reader glued to their story. If you’re going to break rules you must have good reason for it and you must to do it well.
Reynard’s constant shifts in character point of view - mid-chapter, mid-paragraph, it didn’t seem to matter – stopped me from becoming fully engaged with the characters because I was never sure when I was going to be led away from one characters head and into another’s. Many readers might not notice, but it stood out to my writer’s eye and my trust in the author began to waver because of it.
Then, to make matters worse, Reynard occasionally popped in with odd comments in parentheses, which are sometimes funny or entertaining, but usually not directly from the character. For example:
‘Inside, a group of fifty academics were milling about the refreshment tables, sipping tea and enjoying cookies while chatting about the extraordinary world of Dante studies. (For indeed, that world was much more interesting than it appeared to outsiders.)’
And this one was particularly confusing, again because it read as though the author was speaking, not the character:
‘And if he found his father’s remarks strange, he kept that to himself. (But in truth, he didn’t find the remarks strange.)’
These little asides were distracting and pulled me out of the story. They read as an interjection from the author to the reader rather than coming from the character.
The book is long and is made so because there are a lot of extra unnecessary words. Reynard goes to some length describing unnecessary details that detract from building the emotional power in a scene – what specific muscle of Gabriel’s Julia is admiring (gluteus maximus, pectoral); how a pregnancy test box found its way behind the waste basket in the bathroom; exactly what clothes Julia takes off before climbing into bed with her husband; chairs that are ‘obliging’.
There. You see. I sound whining and critical and nit-picky. Which is why I put the book down. Sadly Gabriel’s story is beyond me because my internal editor would not shut up long enough for me to become engaged with it. The truth is all these writing sins aren’t obvious to most readers. Most readers will pick this book up and just read it, become engaged with the story to varying degrees and won’t notice all the picky details I did. But being a writer, I did. I can’t help it. When I read now, if rules are broken to no clear effect, for no clear reason, I can’t tolerate it.
That’s not to say it’s a terrible book. It’s not. It clearly hits all the right spots for its genre. Strong love is challenged by interpersonal and external conflict. Drama ensues. The hero and heroine find their way past those hurdles to a new and hopeful future. When other reviewers say it’s a good read, I believe them. It’s just not a good read for me.