Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Lace Reader - Brunonia Barry

Title: The Lace Reader
Author: Brunonia Barry
Published: 2006 Pages: 385
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

What? A book review? I know, this is a book blog afterall. This blog has been in a sad state the past month or so, but what a great book to get back into the reviewing habit with. I've had The Lace Reader on my wishlist for a while after seeing such glowing reviews, so I jumped at the chance of joining the TLC blog tour. Luckily, this one didn't disappoint.

The Lace Reader immediately caught my attention with its opening paragraph: "My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's no exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time." Unreliable narrators can be tricky for an author to carry out--sometimes the plot can become contrived as the reader is always forced to decide whether or not the narrator can be trusted or sometimes the narrator is noted to be unreliable and then the matter is dropped completely. Barry, however, has crafted an entrancing tale that kept me on my toes throughout the entire novel. Little pieces of the mystery begin to fit together one by one, but Towner is the perfect unreliable narrator--she tells a story that even she doesn't understand until the end.

Wait, I got so excited about the narration that I forgot about the plot summary! Towner, recovering from a hysterectomy, receives a get well gift from her grandmother (actually great aunt) Eva--a pillow designed for making lace, but when she reaches into the secret pocket of the pillow for a letter, the pocket is empty. When Towner returns home, she receives a frightening call from her brother, Beezer, announcing that Eva has disappeared. Towner immediately travels back to Salem, the town she left years ago, to help find Eva. Upon her return, Towner unravels the mysterious disappearance of Eva, but during her search other dark secrets of her past begin to surface--especially the secrets surrounding the death of Towner's twin sister Lyndley. These secrets could possibly be too much for Towner and her family to bear.

And other such complicated things. I've often seen The Lace Reader called a thriller, which in an unconventional way I guess it is, but more than that it is a book about the search for family history, identity, belonging, trust, and new beginnings. It has been a long time since I've read a book that I had troubles putting down, but Barry's writing kept me turning the pages eager to discover the past that Towner had buried deep within her. In addition to the strong themes throughout the book, there is also wonderful atmosphere created with the setting in Salem and the prevalence of witchcraft and religious zealots. The isolation of the towns and surrounding islands further add to the atmospheric tension, and this book had me dying to return to New England for a visit.

My only small complaint about the book is that it is mainly written in first person narrative, but there are a few sections that are written in third person--mostly centered around Rafferty, the police officer helping Towner find Eva and other plots things. At first the switches in point of view were unobtrusive, but near the end of the novel things began getting a little choppy. To me it felt like the book was falling apart a little bit, but I can also see how Barry was possibly using this writing style to convey a lot of uncertainty in the plot, but still. The ending, though, had me forgiving Barry of any previous choppiness as everything came perfectly together.

I'd widely recommend this book. Perhaps some might find it a little on the quiet side, but I think there are enough twists and turns that even the most impatient reader (ie me) will find The Lace Reader a compelling read. Recently I've started judging books by how likely I am to pass it on to one of my parents, and I can say with certainty that I'll be passing this one along. EDIT: I've picked this book for our book club meeting next month so we can discuss and then meet the author--so exciting!

What do you think about unreliable narrators? Do you think that they can be effective or gimmicky? Any memorable ones?

Also, Barry is going on tour:
9/14 – Los Angeles – Vroman’s Bookstore – Reading and Signing
9/15—Edwards, CO – VIP Customer Book Club Event
9/20—Andover, MA – Meet the Author Benefit for PATHS
10/12 Mequon, WI Next Chapter Bookshop
10/13 Dallas, TX Legacy Books
10/20 – Lexington, MA Library
10/22- Swampscott, MA Library
10/27- Destination Salem Lunch, Hampton Falls Library
11/18th 10 AM, Exeter Library, Exeter, NH

For more, visit Barry's Lace Reader website. I'm so excited to see that she'll be coming to Dallas--I'll definitely have to see about popping in for a visit! Thanks for TLC Tours for allowing me to be apart of The Lace Reader booktour.


Ana S. said...

Despite the choppiness, I really like the sound of this. I love a well written unreliable narrator, like the one in The Remains of the Day, for example. But in the hands of less talented authors they can be a little gimmicky, yes. I can think of another GREAT one, but telling you the narrator is unreliable is in itself a spoiler :P

PS: Read Fingersmith!
PPS: The book I meant above was not Fingersmith, though :P

Tasha said...

I've been interested in the unreliable narrator since reading Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. I'll keep this book in mind.

Lisa said...

I had a copy of this and I gave it away unread. I guess this means I have to add it to my library list, but who knows when I'll get to it!

Alana said...

I've been meaning to read this for a while now, and your review reminded me to put it on my list at the library. Great review!

Jenny said...

Great review!
To be honest, I can't remember if I've ever read a book with an unreliable narrator. I may have and it just isn't coming to me.

Laura said...

Yep--I'm definitely going to read this one now! I had forgotten what it was about, and now that you've reminded me, I'm very excited about reading it!

I tend to believe the narrators...all the time...even if they are unreliable. Then, I will get confused if pieces of the story don't make sense. Then I will get frustrated, and I always have to remind myself that if there is a particular person telling a story, they can really say whatever they want. :)

serendipity_viv said...

It is fabulous to read other people's reviews on books you have read. You brought up points that I hadn't even noticed, making me rethink my thoughts on the book. Great review.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Nymeth - LOL--I always think of Stevens also when talking about unreliable narrators. I really do love a good unreliable narrator. :) And Fingersmith is high on my list--just not this month. Maybe in October!!

*Charley - I haven't worked up the courage to read Turn of the Screw yet, although I've heard good things. I think you'd like this one.

*Lisa - I know, for shame! Why would you give up your copy without reading it? I feel like I should chide you for such things. :P

*Alana - I hope you can get to this one--although it doesn't feel like a thriller or mystery, it will keep you guessing until the end.

*Jenny - Sometimes the unreliability of a narrator is subtle and sometimes like this one the author bluntly points it out. A famous one is Nick from Great Gatsby.

*Laura - I think you'd like this one!! And then you can go to the author event with me!! And hopefully she'll explain how to make and read lace. And we can eat fun pastries from the bakery! Yay!

*Vivienne - I know just what you mean--some of my favorite posts are for books that I've read myself. It's fun to compare notes with others and see what they thought.

Jenny said...

That makes sense. I have read The Great Gatsby but it was years ago in high school so I don't remember much and probably didn't appreciate it anyway. =/

bermudaonion said...

After your review, I want to know more about Towner and her past! I'm looking forward to reading this.

Trisha said...

I have to admit I love unreliable narrators too. I feel that we are all unreliable in our narration and remembrances of past events, so an unreliable narrator, in a book, when done well feels more natural. Hmmm...that might not make sense. :) Anyway, this book sounds awesome..off to BookMooch.

Melody said...

Great review, Trish! I love the premise and I've heard a lot of good reviews about this book so I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist. :)

Lisa said...

I really wanted to like this book more. I just felt like Barry started writing without a clear idea where she was going and threw everything she had into the story.

Booklogged said...

I won this book recently, but it has not arrived yet. I'm excited to read it.

trish said...

While I like unreliable narrators, I've had trouble when they're not so open about their unreliableness as Towner. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out WHEN the narrator isn't being honest, and I find that frustrating. But when Towner opens with, "I lie all the time." it was really easy to know what you, as the reader, had to do (i.e. not believe her). But then I found myself thinking, Gosh, Towner seems awfully truthful to me! Then I got to the end and I was like Holy crap!

This is hands down the best instance of an unreliable narrator that I've ever read.

Anyway, enough rambling. I came to thank you for writing such a thoughtful review and I'm glad you were on this tour! :)

Stephanie said...

I just finished this book and am having a hard time putting my thoughts down as I didn't like it half as much as most reviewers. It was just too all over the place for me. Glad you liked it though!

samantha.1020 said...

I'm so glad to hear that you liked this book as I have it checked out from the library. It sure sounds like something that I will like ;) Great review!

TheBlackSheep said...

I had looked at this book and thought I'd pass, but maybe I would like it. I'll certainly be looking at it again. Thanks for the review! It's always fun to see someone so enthusiastic about a book :0)

Anonymous said...

What a nice review Trish. I just love the cover of this book. I saw it in the bookstore last time but it was soooo expensive, almost 3 times the normal price. Adn ti wasn't even the same cover.

Unreliable narrators? Depends on how it's done.

Veens said...

I have never read anything with an unreliable narrator- and it actually horrifies and interests me at the same time :)

The book sounds complicated, quiet but very interesting!! I will put this in my wishlist for sure :)

S. Krishna said...

I have this book on my Fall Into Reading challenge list, so I'm glad to see it's good!

Debi said...

Sheesh...I'd never even heard of this book. And I gotta admit after hearing the title, I was convinced it wasn't a book for me. I know, I know, I should seriously be strung up by my toes for such ridiculous notions. Anyway, Trish to the rescue!!!! I'm so totally sold on this book after reading your review, Trish! It sounds sooooo, sooooo, sooooo good! The library better have this one, or I fear my book buying ban will be hitting a bump in the road. ;)

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Jenny - I guess maybe I should have said “it is sometimes argued…” about Great Gatsby. I’ve read GG twice and don’t love it either.

*Bermudaonion - It’s an interesting story to say the least! Enjoy.

*Trisha - You make a great point about all of us being unreliable in the way that we remember our experiences! What you said makes complete sense and I had never thought about it that way before. Hope you can get this one.

*Melody - I think for the most part the reviews of this one have been fairly positive. It’s an interesting book with lots to think about!

*Lisa - I definitely felt that way near the end of the book, especially as the focus turned more on Rafferty, but I think she pulled it together nicely—could have been tighter, though.

*Booklogged - Enjoy the book—it’s a great one to curl up with on a fall day.

*Trish - Thanks for coming by. Looking back on the book, I don’t think Towner was lying—in fact I think that first paragraph is a little misleading. I don’t think Towner is unreliable in a deceptive way like some unreliable narrators, but is unreliable because her memory is faulty and she has a lot of internal healing to do. But yes, definitely lots of surprises in the book!!

*Stephanie - Well hurry up and review it so I can know what you didn’t like!! :P Sorry it didn’t work out for you, though.

*Samantha - Hope you can read it before it’s due back to the library! It’s a really interesting story—I think you’ll like it.

*BlackSheep - I had been wanting to read this one for a while, so I’m just happy it didn’t disappoint. Read through the first couple of chapters and you’ll get a pretty good feel for the book. It isn’t “sit on the edge of your seat and grip the pages” type of thriller, but it has some good twists.

*Violetcrush - Oh no! I wonder why it was so expensive? Does that happen a lot with books like this? I do like the cover of this one a lot! And yes, unreliable narrators are tricky—they either work or don’t.

- Veens - If written well, an unreliable narrator can be quite fascinating. Sometimes it’s just gimmicky, though. I think you’d really like this one, Veens.

*S. Krishna - I hope you enjoy it—this is a perfect one for fall, especially being set in Salem.

*Debi - The title comes from the fact that these women can read the future through looking at lace--so, interesting things going on there! LOL--you guys and your book bans. I wish I could. But I am weak. And am easily sold. :P

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I only have one thing to say. Towner? Seriously, that's the name of the women narrator? So strange.

Anna said...

I bought this book ages ago but haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to reading it, but I hope the shifting POV doesn't drive me nuts.

Diary of an Eccentric

Literary Feline said...

I am so glad you enjoyed The Lace Reader, Trish. I just read a book with an unreliable narrator and enjoyed it. It's always interesting to see how well an author can pull it off. It sounds like Barry can.

joanna said...

Great, another one for the wishlist! :-) I can't think of any unreliable narrators at the moment, but this one sure sounds intriguing!

Thoughts of Joy said...

I received the ARC - ummmm, a long time ago (head down in shame) and just haven't gotten to it yet. I have it in the short pile, so hopefully it'll be soon. I have heard mostly good about it, though and with your 4.5/5 - I'm excited. :) I didn't read much of your post, but will be back when I'm done.

Alice said...

This one is interesting! I like the opening and definitely will check it out. Who could resist a title like that?

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Natasha - LOL--yes, but she says in the first sentence that her real name is Sophya. :) That's better, huh?

*Anna - I think the change in POV isn't too distracting--and I've read some reviews where people liked the change.

*Literary Feline - I love a good unreliable narrator as well, but they are hard to pull off. I think you'd like this one.

*Joanna - I hope you can get to it--my book club is reading it now and really enjoying it, too.

*Joy - LOL! Get to it lady. :) It's a pretty quick read even though feels a little slow in some places. Hope you like it.

*Alice Teh - Definitely a catchy first sentence, huh? Barry sure knows how to being a story!