I have been delaying the writing of this review, simply because I don’t really know what to say about the book. It’s been hugely praised, it’s won a lot of awards (notably beating Hilary Mantel to the Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year) and it’s this tubthumping that brought the novel to my attention. Lord knows I love a big American novel, but the hushed tones referring to this as a Great American Novel? Having completed the book, I don’t quite buy that.
Harold Silver has a perfectly ordinary life. His brother is a successful TV producer with a wife and two kids. One Thanksgiving, a tiny little moment has a Butterfly Effect and not long after, Harold finds himself divorced and guardian to his niece and nephew. Harold is a Nixon scholar, and on top of everything else, finds himself relieved of his position as lecturer and free to concentrate on the book he’s been writing for years on end.
And so Harold begins to rebuild his life, even as it spins ever further out of control. And here’s my problem. I didn’t believe a single word of it. I saw the points Homes was making, but I didn’t buy them. I bought the characters, thought they were all well rounded and Harold was always fascinating, making for an unreliable but never dull narrator. But pretty much every big event that happens after Harold’s life has been upended caused me to roll my eyes and say “really?”
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I did. And that’s why I have been so reticent to write my review. This is undeniably a good book, I just didn’t think it was a GREAT book. And it certainly outstays its welcome. I read an interview with Homes where she said that this book “just kept going” and she was interested to see where she could take it. This explains a lot. An experience I enjoyed, but one I am most definitely not keen to repeat.