Saturday, 17 November 2012

Review: Gleams of a Remoter World by Fiona Glass

Chris is a journalist who works for a magazine that investigates paranormal activity and the writes articles based on those investigations. He and his co-worker and on-off lover, Jo, set off to Ireland to investigate a spooky derelict Anglican chapel where they discover that not only is there intense ghostly activity but that a terrible crime has been committed.

I have to admit I had very mixed views about this book. I shall start with the things I really liked:

By far the best part of the book for me was the mystery ghost story. It was a great mix of investigative journalism and spooky goings on. Chris' tenacity in working through the clues and taking risks to find evidence showed that he was a talented journalist and seeker of the truth. The clues are unveiled bit by bit as Chris works out what had happened at the church site to cause such strong paranormal events and I found this part gripping.

The second part I enjoyed was the Irish setting. It was strong and vivid with all aspects of Ireland - good and bad - shown to the reader. The people in the small village where Chris and Jo stay were well drawn, from the busy pub landlady, to the old codger whose over-the-top stories which made for some light relief, to Mary the lady who runs the boat tours.  These people were alive to me and jumped from the page.  The scenery was also lovingly shown and it was obvious that the author has a great fondness for the country. It certainly made me want to visit!

The author has a lovely lyrical written style and a realistic way with characters. On the whole this was a very positive aspect of the story, except when it came to the character of Jo and her relationship with Chris.

** Spoilers in this next bit **

The part that worked less well for me was in the romance or perhaps I should say the relationships.  At the beginning of the book, Chris is in a 'friends-with-benefits' relationship with Jo. He loves her but she doesn't want him and so she dates other men whilst using Chris for companionship and sex whenever she has a slow period with her other lovers. She also treats Chris with disdain and sometimes contempt. In fact Chris becomes like a maltreated dog, alternately ignored and browbeaten, but just at the point of turning savage she throws him a bone or treats him with utter kindness. Chris knows that she's a total bitch, but he's so blinkered by his feelings for her that he passes it off as her 'fiery temperament'. This weakens Chris' character considerably as he come across as ineffective and frankly rather pathetic to be hanging onto his love for a woman who treats him so badly. I couldn't stand her and spent pretty much the first two thirds of the book in a state of tense fury over this woman.  Her hypocrisy and double standards get worse when it becomes obvious that Chris is crushing on a guy they meet during the investigation, Paulie. She goes into fits of fuming, silent jealousy which casts a huge shadow over Chris. I think the last straw for me was when Chris and Jo go out on a boat to an island monastery and Chris is so caught up in worrying about how he might have upset Jo again, that he finds it difficult to enjoy the scenery:

He hoped he hadn’t put his foot in it, because the island was fascinating as well as beautiful. As it was, Jo’s annoyance kept intruding on the vistas of moor and sea. A rabbit hole became Jo’s mouth, spitting furious words at him, and the plaintive cry of the kittiwakes became her voice, sharpened to a knife-edge by her rage.

After that I just wanted her out of the book, as more and more examples are given of her selfishness. Then the inevitable happens and we discover than not only is she a prize cow but she's also homophobic. She ends their relationship and cuts Chris out of her life. After years of friendship, and twelve years of working together, she leaves Chris alone and mourning for her. At this point I wanted to shake him and ask why, why is he in mourning for someone who obviously didn't care at all about him?

I was frustrated and unhappy with Chris for most of the book over his blinkered view of Jo, so much so that I found it difficult to gain much joy in his relationship with Paulie. Their feelings develop late in the book and whilst it was an excellent way of showing the healing that both men have to go through before they can be together, their romance is only just beginning as the book ends. I also wished we had seen more of them together physically because, whilst we have a fairly explicit sex scene between Jo and Chris towards the beginning of the book, the sex between Paulie and Chris is mainly behind closed doors. I didn't need endless sex, just something to show that his desire for Paulie matched or exceeded that for Jo.

I know it seems like I've been overly negative in this review, but that is just because the relationship between Jo is so entwined within the plot and themes of the book that it cast a shadow over everything. Also, I liked Chris as a character on the whole, wanted the best for him and admired his skills as a journalist. I wanted him to see how much he was being used and was annoyed when he refused to see it.  It's not a bad book though. As I said the descriptions of Ireland were vivid and almost poetic and the ghost mystery plot original and gripping.  There may be many readers who will not have such a strong adverse reaction to Jo as I did, in which case this will be a wonderful book for you. As it is, it gets a grade of 'Good' from me but I really like how this author writes so I shall continue to seek out her books in future.

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