Four star review, originally posted here on August 20, 2020.
I first discovered Geraldine Brooks last year when I picked up Year of Wonders and was BLOWN AWAY. I got completely sucked in, moreso than I have with any other novel in a really long time, and wanted to give it 5 stars so badly. But in the end, even though it’s one of my favorite books to read ever, I only gave it 4 stars. I thought the ending was just way too over the top crazy and weird, and it took me out of things right at the end. I also thought the title was pretty dumb, but that was a moderate complaint.
Well, here I am returning to my second Brooks novel, and it’s total deja vu. I was, yet again, completely sucked in to the drama. Brooks’ writing is beautiful. Her plots are interesting. Her characters are fantastic. She does not shy away from tough subject matter. I was reading it and thinking “Brooks is my secret twin and this book is amazeballs.” (Though, I doubt Brooks would ever use the word “amazeballs, so maybe not a twin after all…) But, yet again, I ran into the same two complaints. The ending and the title. The title is unimportant, but yet again it just doesn’t correspond to the book much. I mean yeah, we have a character named Caleb, but the book isn’t about him. The bigger let-down is the ending. In Year of Wonders shit just goes off the rails. But in Caleb’s Crossing, things just kinda die down and get really boring. The middle of this book is drama-drama-drama, OMG what is going to happen, nail-biting excitement, and then… We hit section three, look at the time left on our audiobook (more on that later), and realize we have another hour to listen to, only to find a boring account of who married whom and who died when. Like in Year of Wonders, they cover a few decades worth of story at the end, only in this case it isn’t even an interesting story.
I tried this one as an audiobook, and it worked well in that format. Like any good Jane Austen fan I was psyched to see it was narrated by Jennifer Ehle. She did a good job overall, but, like other reviewers have mentioned, every now and then her delivery would get really weird and she would spit out words in broken up chunks by syllable. I don’t know if this was her struggling with the American accent, or her giving us carefully-researched period-accurate pronunciations, or what. There were a couple points early on where I found this a little odd or jarring, but either I got used to it, or she stopped doing it, because it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story.
Anyway, this reads like a negative review, but it is absolutely not. I loved this book. Enough so that I plan to make my way through all of Brooks’ other works (fiction and non-fiction). I truly admire her ability to make another time period come alive, and to write truly brilliant female leads in repressive times. And there were so many similarities to aspects of my own writing that I wondered whether she might be stealing from my brain.
Five Stars for the first 90% of the book!