Sunday, 14 July 2013

Book Review: ELOISE by Judy Finnigan

Eloise by Judy Finnigan

Title: Eloise
Author: Judy Finnigan
Publisher: Redhook Books (Hachette Book Group)
Read: July 07 - 08, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

She was a daughter, a wife, a mother. She was my friend. But what secrets did Eloise take to her grave?

After her best friend Eloise dies from breast cancer, Cathy is devastated. But then Cathy begins to have disturbing dreams that imply Eloise's death was not all it seems.

With a history of depression, Cathy is only just recovering from a nervous breakdown and her husband Chris, a psychiatrist, is acutely aware of his wife's mental frailty. When Cathy tells Chris of her suspicions about Eloise's death, as well as her ability to sense Eloise's spirit, Chris thinks she is losing her grip on reality once again.

Stung by her husband's scepticism, Cathy decides to explores Eloise's mysterious past, putting herself in danger as she finds herself drawn ever deeper into her friend's great - and tragic - secret.

My thoughts:

I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, especially ones set in rural UK settings, so I was very excited to receive Eloise from Netgalley.

Still recovering from a recent bout of clinical depression, Cathy finds it difficult to cope with the untimely death of her best friend Eloise, a mother of two young children, from breast cancer. When Eloise begins to appear to her in her dreams, trying to convince her that her children are in terrible danger, Cathy finds it difficult to turn to anyone for help without appearing crazy and disturbed – even her husband Chris is doubting her sanity. Left without support, Cathy must find the courage to step out on her own to uncover her friend’s tragic secret.

As it turned out, the setting in beautiful Cornwall was the one thing I really enjoyed about the story, even when parts of the book read like advertising from the local tourism board. Finnigan’s love for the place is obvious, and showed in her descriptions of the story’s settings, which made Cornwall a strong contestant for moving a few notches up on my travel list.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the ghost story part, which for me was a huge let-down. From the start I found it very hard to relate to the protagonist Cathy, whose constant whining and self-pity wore thin very quickly. Having lost loved ones to cancer myself, the problem wasn’t a lack of empathy for Cathy’s feelings of loss – but the fact that I could not connect with Cathy’s feelings at all. Cathy mentions her depression, her sense of loss, her powerlessness – but she does not show them to the reader. Repeatedly we hear about her suffering from clinical depression, but where is the evidence?  When reading a novel, I am not interested in text-book explanations (I get enough of those at work), but I want to connect to the person’s feelings, the very soul of the character. I wanted Cathy to share her feelings, the sense of hopelessness she feels on waking, the blackness engulfing her with every step she takes, her sense of isolation, of living in a world apart from her peers, of being separated from the joys of life by an invisible wall, a heavy cloud bearing down on her. Instead, Cathy seems steeped in self-pity, without giving the reader a chance to feel her pain. This became very wearing after a while, until I dreaded picking up the book at all. I believe Eloise is Finnigan’s first novel – perhaps telling rather than showing is a trap many first-time novelists fall into, and this was certainly the case for me in this novel.

With the main protagonist having become a two-dimensional and rather tiresome figure I didn’t particularly like, I found it almost impossible to be emotionally engaged in any of the storyline unfolding. Cathy’s dialogue with the “ghost” of her deceased best friend Eloise is wooden and unbelievable, and destroyed the chance of any goose-bumps arising from the ghostly encounters. Cathy’s husband Chris, who is supposed to be a psychiatrist, at times acts so unprofessionally and unethically that I would have severe doubts about his professional credentials.

To keep this review as constructive rather than negative criticism, I will conclude with some points which normally make a good ghost story for me:

  • An emotional connection to the main character and an insight into their inner torment / fear.
  • An atmospheric description of the setting which has the power to elicit an emotional response and a spine-tingling feeling of fear / dread in the reader – eg a lonely moor, a bleak windswept coastline, a dilapidated mansion, etc.
  • A mystery at the heart of the novel which is slowly unveiled and which is strong enough to see the novel through to its conclusion. This mystery should also drive the ghostly activity.
  • Dialogue and action (rather than descriptions and explanations) carrying the story forward.

Unfortunately Eloise didn't deliver on any of those points for me.

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