Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Whole World, by Emily Winslow

After reading the Goebbels biography, I decided to detox with a some good, escapist fiction. So what do I do? Get suckered by dust-jacket propaganda.
At once a sensual and irresistible mystery and a haunting work of psychological insight and emotional depth, The Whole World marks the beginning of a brilliant literary career for Emily Winslow, a superb, limitlessly gifted author. Set in the richly evoked pathways and environs of Cambridge, England, The Whole World unearths the desperate secrets kept by its many complex characters—students, professors, detectives, husbands, mothers—secrets that lead to explosive consequences.
 This isn't a bad book, nor a notably good one. The Delacorte Press publicist who wrote the glowing synopsis, however, does deserve some sort of award for hyperbole. Maybe the Goebbels Prize?

I'm afraid I will not be haunted by the novel's "psychological insight and emotional depth". I found it lacking in both. It's a pastiche of a story, cobbled together from a half dozen narrators, and each narrative shift left me frustrated. Yes, it moved the story along briskly but in a vessel with a shallow draft, not unlike a punt on the Cam.

The "richly evoked pathways and environs of Cambridge" of the synopsis had also appealed to me, and there too I came away hungry. A postcard is as evocative.

I read this book to find out what happens at the end. I didn't find myself especially jolted by the "explosive consequences", but I did keep turning the pages until I reached them. If I felt compelled to examine the novel in detail, I expect I'd find dozens of flaws -- places where facts don't line up, where timelines clash, and so on. Ms. Winslow, I think, spent too much energy on constructing an elaborate plot when she might have sat back, reflected, and given fewer characters much more depth.

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