‘The cave, the cave,’ yelled Jonathon. Fay appeared with a wriggling Carrie desperate to escape the confines of her pushchair. ‘Can we come too?’ her sister-in-law asked, her tone revealing her own eagerness to escape for a while.
The Amber Keeper was recommended to me by a friend and I really wanted to like it. Not least because I had not enjoyed her previous recommendation all that much either.
So, deciding to DNF was - and this is unusual for me - hard.
But then you guys here on BL already know that I don't have a problem abandoning books. Hey, I managed to DNF a Graham Greene novel not long ago - and I'd never thought I'd see that happen!
So, anyway, why did the book not work for me?
Well, The Amber Keeper tells the story set in the 1960s of Abbie, an un-wed single mother who returns to the Lake District for her mother's funeral. In the aftermath of the funeral and the squabble about inheritance etc. Abbie spends a lot of time talking to her grandmother and finds out about her gran's time in Russia during the years of the Revolution.
I really like the premise of the plot. What I had an issue with was the delivery.
Let the book speak for itself:
"Abbie felt a sudden hopelessness overwhelm her as she sat gazing out of her bedroom window, her transistor radio playing Andy Williams singing Can’t Get Used To Losing You, which was exactly how she felt right now. To lose her mother just when she needed her most, needed that much-longed-for reconciliation, was more than she could bear. How cruel life was at times. If only she possessed her grandmother’s strength. She watched the whooper swans preparing to leave Carreckwater for their summer breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. How far those beautiful birds must have to travel, and to a region even colder than this one. Rather as Millie had done when she’d sailed to Russia."
Why is it important that Andy Williams gets a mention?
Why the reference to her grandmother's strength? This is before her gran reveals her story in the book, and up to this point there are only vague references about family secrets - and not much about her gran.
And most important - and most annoying to me - why do I need to know that whooper swans have summer breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra? I'm sorry, but unless the swans feature in the story, I do not want to read about their summer breeding grounds.
(Btw, I checked - there are no further references to the swans. So, why....?)
So, puzzled, I continued to find this:
" ‘Sorry I didn’t manage to call yesterday, Gran, only we took the children out on Coniston Water for a treat.’ ‘Good for you. Cheer you all up, I expect.’ ‘Indeed it did.’ Abbie sipped her coffee as the two lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching a house martin flying frantically to and fro as it gathered material for its nest."
I think the author may be a twitcher. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does not move the story forward or create any of the much needed atmosphere. Nor do the references seem to be metaphors for anything. So, still puzzled I read on.
"Both women lapsed into silence for a moment as they recalled happier days, then Abbie gave a little sigh.
‘I still can’t get my head around why Mum would do this. It’s quite beyond my comprehension. But then she was never easy to understand.’
‘It’s true she was rather a complicated person, a bit screwed up, as you young people would say. But then she had a lot to deal with, not knowing exactly who she was, for one thing.’
‘That must have been awful for her.’
‘I’m afraid it did trouble her greatly.’
Abbie tried to recall when first she’d learned that her mother had been adopted, perhaps when she was being something of a problem during her own teen years. Kate had told her that she considered herself fortunate to have enjoyed a good upbringing with loving parents, which included being privately educated at a local girls’ school, when she could so easily have suffered a deprived childhood confined in an orphanage."
It was at this point that I had to laugh. I mean, it can be difficult to convey to readers how characters might feel, but fear not - in this book, the author does an awesome job at telling you exactly what people think and feel and why they do it.
Incidentally, when trying to contrast growing up at an orphanage with growing up in a loving family - who cares about the private education at a local girls school?
From here the reading became less laugh out loud and more strenuous because of the amount of eye-rolling I felt compelled to engage in. So, at risk of causing permanent damage from eye-strain I decided to skim through the rest of the book and see if it does get better. Then the following caught my attention:
" ‘Good for you. Amber is beautiful, likened to the sun because of its colour and clarity. There are many myths and legends attached to it, not least that it is considered to possess healing properties, often worn by children when they are teething. And significantly it is a symbol of fidelity, meant to represent everlasting love,’ Millie said with a smile.
‘Oh, I like that. We could do with a bit more fidelity in this world, judging by all the scandalous goings-on in this Profumo affair. What his lovely wife feels about her MP husband sleeping with a woman who is also having it off with a Russian diplomat, I dread to think. Poor woman!’
‘Windmill girls, or so they think, and the dreadful scandal is having to be carefully kept from Lady Astor that her son has become an innocent victim in the affair, a scapegoat in fact, just because he allowed Stephen Ward to use a cottage on the Cliveden estate."
How do you get from making jewelry to the Profumo Affair? And most importantly - WHY??? It has nothing whatsoever to do with story - and none of it is ever mentioned again. (I checked.)
Is it just thrown in there the give the story a sense of being set in the early 1960s? If so, why not do this by setting the scene rather than by throwing a reference to a political scandal that most people outside of the UK have not heard of?
And for what it's worth, don't get me started on "poor" Lord and Lady Astor. How could they not have known what was going on at Cliveden. They were there!
Anyway, I'm digressing - much like the book. Unlike the book, however, I'm not trying to tell a story.
In summary, The Amber Keeper is an interesting story but the patronising, over-explaining, info-dumping, tell-rather-than-show kind of writing drove me nuts!