This is a very hard book to review, because after coming to the end I am trying to decide whether it was difficult because of the style of writing or characters, and whether I hated it or not, or whether my expectations influenced my final opinion of the book. I will try and do my best to give a comprehensive review and my experience reading the book without giving too much away;
First I think that the title "The Hypnotist" can be slightly misleading, because really the story is no more about the hypnotist than it is about the lead detective/the hypnotist's wife/the hypnotist's son/the suspect.... The fact that the narrative does not seem to focus on one character more than another is partially why the book has a disjointed feel. We start with the perspective of the lead detective and stay with him for long enough to get comfortable, to see the world through his eyes and his thoughts, and then we get jerked away quite suddenly to another character, which would be fine if the first person perspective went back and forth between a few characters following a linear story line, and experiencing it from their eyes, but from there it gets more confusing...
If you have seen the movie Go, or Pulp Fiction that will help to understand how the first 1/4-1/3 of this book is told, and it is confusing because you do not realize right away that you keep jumping back in time because new characters are being introduced in both the past and present. I am not sure if this is more difficult in a written format than a cinematic, because you do not have visuals to go on, and the Swedish names are already hard to follow. To make things even more confusing this format of story telling is abandoned and goes back to a linear format.
I hardily agree with other reviews that this book is in need of some MAJOR editing, because the characters that we think we should care about are in some ways abandoned and we go down literary rabbit holes as it were with story arcs about the hypnotist's wife's affair, their son spending time with a girl friend in a mall, all seem perfunctory and do not have much (if anything) to do with the central point of the story, which itself get's lost *(more about that in a minute).
This book I think is all the more frustrating because it is not so out rightly bad that you would just stop reading, instead you keep thinking there must be some big reveal, that things are all going to come together in the end (they don't). But with the afore mentioned film "Go" the storytelling tightens everything up, brings the story together, and the different plot lines come together for a satisfying whole, this book does the opposite, the storytelling makes the plot spread out like an ink stain, and rather than everything coming together, everything seems to spread apart into fragmented pieces.
*Now to address my earlier comment about what we think is the central point of the story; our grisly murders are basically solved (in a sense) quite early in the book, and the main suspect is known, something then happens that keeps this plot flowing, BUT suddenly we are diverted to a side story about a former patient of the hypnotist that has nothing to do with the murders at all, and this side story has another side story that has nothing to do with either of the other side stories and is about kids playing Pokemon. Confused yet?
I will quickly note that the reader does a good job of the narration.
Ultimately this book is confusing, frustrating and unsatisfying, all the more so because you sort of feel inclined to stick with it because you think everything must wrap up neatly in the end, it doesn't. Rather it feels like a small group of rather talented writes sat in a circle, started a story, and then said "tag you're it", and passed it on to the next writer to do whatever with it, and so on.
Reading the description of this book I could not help but think of The Night Circus, a book I enjoyed very much. The Troupe promises the inner world of Vaudeville, all the odd and the strange, and peppered with mysteries of the other worldly.
What I found surprising is that with (what sounds like) such a good premise for a novel, it is instead only the thin outer crust surrounding the novel, and instead 90% of the prose is mind-numbing dialogue between the characters, who are all one dimensional, grumpy selfish empty shells themselves. If you took a shot for every time a character said "'Why?" after another character spoke you would be under the table by page 20. My biggest gripe is that not much happens in the novel. There is supposedly some big bad supernatural creatures that the troupe is both running from and opposing, but they only show up a few times in the book, and the rest of the time is just the characters in the troupe talking to each other. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue..... I'm sorry but the "he said" she said" drove me crazy, and then our very ignorant rather daft protagonist responding to almost literally everything with "why?". Imagine watching the show Lost if instead of watching the action all you got to see were Jack and Kate and Charlie and the rest of the cast sitting around on the beach just talking to each other about everything. Oh, and if they were all kind of selfish, short-tempered and stupid.
Sadly after my gripes about the content of the book I must say that none of the characters is very likable either. They are hot tempered and reactive and seem to have no substance. George our main character who is supposed to be a 16 year old pianist in search of his father is incredibly selfish and truly stupid. Yes teenagers can be selfish which is fine, but the author does not seem to have any insight into a 16 year old at all. Rather instead George's inner monologue and responses to those around him seem to be more at the level of a 6-8 year old. He seems to have no comprehension of anything around him and dumbly responds to everything with "why?". All I could picture is a toddler in a grocery store pointing at everything asking "what's that?".... "but why?
I think my greatest disappointment in this book is that the premise could have been interesting if done differently. If instead of basically ignoring what is touted as the plot of this novel, it could have actually flushed out the supposed impending danger and had well rounded characters, this could have been interesting. Instead I got stuck just listening to one-dimensional people talk to each other, yack yack yack yack......
I was hesitant for some time to read/listen to any of Jo Nesbo's books because I personally could not get into Stieg Larson's' writing (to whom he has been compared), and also because it sounded like his novels were grizzly. I am glad I finally gave them a try;
It took a little time to adjust to the pace of the book, it is slower in the beginning and begins to build, also being that it was written in Norwegian, the style is slightly different to to what I am accustomed, but this is something I have started to greatly appreciate. It makes me realize that (at least most of the time) no matter how good the novel, most of the mystery/suspense genre really is rather formulaic, and although after listening to several Nesbo novels I see he has his own formula as well, I appreciate his fresh approach.
That said The Snowman is a great noir tale of serial murder, and the cop who tries to solve the case, which is much closer to home than he realizes...
Young women, some who are married with children begin to disappear under strikingly similar circumstances, one thing connecting the disappearances is that they all occur on the day of the first snowfall, and a mysterious snowman appears on the lawn. When the bodies begin to be uncovered it is obvious that they are dealing with what seems to be a serial killer, who has a taste for the grotesque.
Enter our protagonist Harry Hole, who is truly an anti-hero, he is a drunk with relationship and personal troubles, but he is also the only man on the force to have studied serial killers, and has an insight into their methodology.
There are plot twists and turns that you don't see coming, and the reader Robin Sachs has a gravely voice that suits the story to a tee. I recommend this book. I did personally listen to them out of order, I started with The Snowman, then read The Devil's Star, and then The Leopard. Reading them in order would be helpful to understand some of the events that have unfolded as back story, but it is not imperative.
“The past does not want to be changed”……..This is the premise that drives 11-22-63, although this story is as much about nostalgia and the human experience as it is a very fresh and enjoyable take on time travel.
Jake Epping a divorced 35 year old English teacher from 2011 is living a rather lonely life, as his ex wife has recently left him for someone she met in an AA meeting. Jake has few friends but he has befriended Al, the owner of a local diner who is able to sell his “real beef” burgers at suspiciously rock bottom prices. One day Al calls Jake to come over to the diner after hours to “show him something”. Jake comes over only to find that Al who was healthy the day before, is in the last few days of terminal lung cancer and seems to have aged overnight. With little explanation as to his current state of health, Al decides showing Jake his secret is easier than telling him, and so Jake steps into the pantry of the diner, and into 1958….
I will not go into any more plot details than this, because “living” them along with Jake is what makes this a great read. King explores the terrible and sometimes catastrophic repercussions of trying to change the future by altering the past, and in this novelization you experience right along with our protagonist Jake that trying to alter seemingly unalterable events, (that changed lives and shaped history) is like wading though jello pudding, and is resistant to change. We also observe the horrors and ripple effects that these alterations bring about, the past, shall we say, will have it’s day. At the end this novel asks the question; Was the past better left untouched? Even if you can prevent horrific events, was the world still a better place than the skewed reality created by changing them?
Jake himself grows as a character, and in his five year journey he finds inner strengths that were deeply buried in the meek English teacher from 2011, and he even dares to love again. 11-22-63 also explores great questions of morality; selfish desires versus noble intentions, and whether the life of a friend or loved one is a sacrifice worth making for the life of a world leader.
For me this was truly a page turner, and although a lot of parts of the book were a bit of a meander through the past, I never felt that it dragged because I experienced life during 1958-1963 as if I had lived back then myself, so clear is the complete immersive experience that King gives us, the visuals… the smells…the sounds…. I also appreciated that King pulled no punches; as much as a beautiful sense of nostalgia that this novel gives you, you also experience the mindset of the day; A different restroom for those of another color, fear of communism, women truly being the lesser sex in society… I came away with a greater appreciation of both the past and the present. Of course like any King novel there is a little touch of the other-worldly going on here that we discover at the very end ;)
Like any good book I was on a race to the finish, hoping I would never find it.
I also want to jump on the bandwagon in praise of the reader Craig Wasson; a good reader can add dimension to a good book, or ruin it. Craig’s voice at first took a little getting used to because upon first listen I thought it sounded a little too old for the character, but after that adjustment I felt I was listening to a movie or play rather than a book. Craig not only has mastery over the different accents and voices of the characters, but he goes beyond just voices, he adds subtle chuckles, inflections, coughs, whimpers… all these take us beyond just the text, and deeper into the heart of the story.
There are many eloquent reviews written here for The Night Circus both in favor, and not in favor, so I am not going to go into any great detail regarding the plot of the book. But having read both positive and negative reviews I would like to respond to the negative, and give my take on supposedly "flat" or "underdeveloped" characters, and why I completely disagree;
This book is called The Night Circus, not Celia & Marco, the Circus itself and the magic and mystery that surround it are the main character, everyone else is a player on the grand stage that is set before us. In my opinion the criticism is directed towards the very thing that makes the book magical, the narrative and storytelling are descriptive and paint a tapestry of visuals, smells, sounds, atmospheres, and people, rather than delving deep into the minds of the individual characters. The narrative itself unfolds like a magic trick, withholding just enough as to not reveal too much lest it lose it's enchantment. I think it is every bit as delicate an art in what is NOT said as much as what IS said. After all if we knew too much detail about a magician it would take away the aura of mystery. The style of the storytelling was what made the book enchanting and utterly captivating, and if the writer had taken the road most traveled and gave us in depth character narrative and thought processes it would have RUINED the book. The Night Circus is like a dream, an enchanted magical journey, you can almost hear the tinkling of a music box playing in the background as you read about the tale of two magicians, and the backdrop of the mysterious Night Circus.
Since we were children it seems we have always been captivated by the world of the circus or magicians, and it is the aura of mystery surrounding them that keeps us in wonder. This is what The Night Circus is able to capture, it's purpose is not (say), to show us the "gritty underbelly beneath the big top", but instead to lead us on a dancing path of moonlight, to have us float in the mist with our feet off the ground, never to quite touch down. I will add that the reader of this book is expertly chosen, and EXCELLENT. If anyone has watched Pushing Daisies and understands the whimsical nature of the show, and how much the narrator adds to it, than they will understand why the very same narrator Jim Dale was chosen here. I felt while listening that I was caught up in the enchantment, and that I was a participant in the mysteriousness rather than being too much "in the know", and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Now regarding the relationship between the two main characters; it makes perfect sense how you could have an opponent who is your equal and opposite match in every way, move for move, intrigue for intrigue, become attractive to you. Just the fact that the two are caught up in a game that only they understand, and the fact that their intellect would at first frustrate and infuriate each other, but slowly become intriguing, then attracting, makes sense.
So I appreciate the telling of this tale as much as the tale itself, and the sleight of hand as much as the cards that are played. This is one of those rare books that I know I will reread again and again for years to come.
(p.s., forgive my overuse of the words "magical", "mysterious" and "enchanted", but sometimes we overuse a word when no other will suffice).
So I am a great fan of historical fiction, and before purchasing this book I read many reviews and did some research. I decided that this seemed to be a historical fantasy fiction. First let me say that for the first few hours you get a feel for the rather slow pace of the story, and the (sometimes) tedious detail. It also took me several hours to adjust to the reader, because although she does a wonderful job, her voice is rather old sounding. So much so that I at first thought our main character Claire was in her forties not her twenties.
That aside, the first third of the book is interesting enough, very detailed in 18th century atmosphere, and description of both Scotland and it's people. Than suddenly this book takes a turn from what I thought was going to be historical/fantasy/romance into outright grocery store paperback smut! Let us say that the writer is not afraid to get vulgar in her descriptions of our "heroine" Claire and her very young Scottish lover's activities, and she also seems to take delight in the fact that everyone want's to rape Claire.
If you want to read/listen to this book because you like historical fiction, you will be in for a shock when it gets Harlequin Romance dirty, and if you like those little paperback romances, well you are going to have to read through a lot of tedium (pages and pages of wandering around a field and picking up little birds and flowers?) to get to anything worthwhile.
Why are there so many great reviews? I am stumped. The characters are not bad, and I must say the writer's research into 18th century Scotland is impressive, but in the end everyone is doing a lot of meandering about with no real point (Claire sort of wants to get back to the 20th century, but not too much, and she sort of wants to stay with her Scott Jamie, but not quite enough. Her character is written as tough and determined, but to what goal and what end since she can't commit any decisions). Never again...
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