Friday, September 28, 2007

Girl in Hyacinth Blue - Susan Vreeland

Title: Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Author: Susan Vreeland
Country: America
Year: 1999
Rating: C-
Pages: 242 pgs.

First sentence: Cornelius Engelbrecht invented himself.

I don't enjoy writing reviews about books that I don't like. After all, I'm just one opinion, and by no means an expert. Why slander a book? But, if I only ever posted reviews of books I enjoy, would that be helpful?

I was very disappointed in Girl in Hyacinth Blue. The story is set up as a series of vignettes (many of them were first printed as short stories as it states in the Acknowledgments). As I started reading I wondered how she could publish so many of the individual chapters on their own, while still creating a cohesive novel. My question was answered, as I discovered the novel was not very cohesive at all.

The plot is an interesting one. The first chapter presents us with a modern day owner of a painting he claims to be a Vermeer formerly unknown to the art world. Each chapter traces the ownership of the painting, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, back to the original owner and creator.

However, Vreeland's technique does not seem to work as the painting at the centerpiece of the novel. Very few of the stories flow well together. I was left unsatisfied, wondering what happens to some of the people in each chapter, or trying to figure out how others fit into the overall history of the painting. Large gaps of time seem to be present, and I had a hard time following the chronology and how the painting was passed between owners. Never mind the fact that the last two chapters don't even adhere to her reverse chronology.

Some novels don't have a resolution, and it works. This one doesn't have a resolution, but as a reader I ended up more frustrated and annoyed. It doesn't even have a proper ending. You never return to the original narrator and finds out what happens to the painting in the modern day. Ultimately, for a book of such small size, it took an extremely long time to finish, and I've already forgotten a lot of the details.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yeah, that sums up experience I had with it, too. :(

I'm still bummed, years later. I'd really been hoping for more.

Literary Feline said...

I also find it difficult to review a book I don't care for--particularly if the author is alive and might stumble on my review. I've noticed since I began blogging that I tend to be nicer with my criticism than I was when I was just journaling book reviews for myself. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I haven't read this particular book and so I can't comment as to that. I appreciate honesty though. I actually find negative reviews helpful sometimes. Not only does it prevent my expectations from rising to high, but it balances out the rave reviews, which sometimes can be misleading.

tanabata said...

I agree with Wendy that sometimes negative reviews are helpful. I read this several years ago and really don't remember much of it, other than I think I liked some of the stories but others not.
Have you seen the film 'Red Violin'? It traces the ownership of a violin. Similar idea. I saw it ages ago but remember liking it.

iliana said...

It's hard to review I don't like but I try to find a way to soften the blow I guess. Maybe mentioned what worked for me along with what didn't. I figure that may help others decide for themselves if they still want to go ahead and read the book or not.

With regards to this book, I was also disappointed with it. I expected so much more.

Bookfool said...

I always feel bad giving a book a negative review, also, and for the same reason - I'm just one reader. If I have an impact on a book, I would prefer to be the person who encourages someone to read a wonderful story, not the one who keeps an author from making a decent living. However, every opinion counts and I'd rather be forewarned about a book by way of a negative review than go into it thinking everyone loved it because only positive reviews were written.

Booklogged said...

Oh, wow - I loved this book. Vreeland's writing is so beautiful. I admit that I wanted a few more chapters interspersed so there wasn't such a long span in between owners, but I loved the creative approach used to telling the story.

As for honest reviews - I like them.

Jeane said...

Unfortunately, I give lots of books semi-negative reviews! I try and be honest about why I did or didn't like it and not too harsh. But I read so much and the bad ones I forget I tried them, but they catch my eye again years later (for the same reason they did the first time) so I like to make a note of why it didn't suit me so I don't try and read it again! (does any of that make any sense?)

Kristen said...

For what it's worth from a drop-in commenter, I like when bloggers are honest, and personally I would have found it so satisfying to write a negative review of this particular book back when I read it. The idea was cool, but the execution was so bad as to be sometimes painful. Anyway, I came here from Unread Authors to see if I'd find another unsatisfied reader, and I guess I did. Hope your next new author is a better experience!

Joy said...

As you already know, I loved this book . . . just like I love honesty in reviews. :) And I do appreciate even those thoughts that don't coincide with mine. Thanks for sharing yours!