Monday, 22 March 2010

BOOK REVIEW: 'Choral Society' by Prue Leith

It's my own fault.
Judging a book by it's cover.
And me being a writer as well. Disgrace.

But I refuse to take all the blame for deciding to read 'Choral Society' by Prue Leith, and frustratingly point my finger at my usually brilliant local bookshop.
See, what happened was, I wanted a novel based/set in Cornwall.  I wanted a little romance and a little humour and so when I saw Leith's novel in the shop window with the bookshops recommendation as "the adventures of 3 women who buy a run down hotel in Cornwall", I thought fantastic. The cover looked vibrant and the blurb on the back appeared to meet my requirements.

What I actually got was a novel mostly set in London about 3 mid-50 year old women (whose names I kept forgetting as I found them totally uninspiring), who towards the end of the book have the idea of running cookery courses in a run down Hotel somewhere in Cornwall.
I was very disappointed.

The part I struggled with the most was how 'unlikeable' the characters were.  I didn't warm to any of them, in fact on times they annoyed me.  They said silly things I wasn't sure a woman would really say or think.  There was also some uncomfortable stereotypical language and ideas regarding black and Asian people - I'm not sure who proofread or edited the novel, but this made for very awkward reading and actually put me off wanting to finish it, I only did so to prove to myself I hadn't overreacted.  I felt Leith was trying to be a little too cool and contemporary, and has so far been lucky not to get herself (or her publishers) into trouble.  Perhaps she did research it, or knows the culture well and therefore felt qualified to write about it, but it came across as clumsy and awkward and therefore best avoided.

It was a good novel in that the characters were better stronger woman than they were at the beginning, but I can't find any other redeeming features. What I'd wanted was more description of Cornwall and the Hotel and what happens after they buy and renovate it, but found myself wanting to know why the publishers had oddly chosen a book sleeve featuring 3 women who, strictly in my opinion, were females in their 20's or 30's. I'm not implying a woman of 55 wouldn't wear platformed red patent Mary Jane shoes or silver 4 inch heels, I just felt it was a little misleading (especially as you later learn one of the characters has arthritis in both knees).

There was love and a little sex as promised, and the women did become friends after joining the same Choir, but even the choir storyline faded to nothing after the first couple of chapters, only to resurface again in the final chapters to conclude the story. It went on a little too long, and didn't provoke my usual frantic page turning to find out what happens at the end - I already knew - not alot.

Overall, it's not a badly written novel.  It flows and makes sense, but lacks passion, excitement and that powerful urge to reach the end. It tries to tackle too many complex issues in the women's lives, and as there are 3 main characters, I often got lost and had to flick back through the pages to see who was who - less is definately more. I will admit I was probably not the intended audience, so for that reason I will not disregard the storyline, but my hostility is more about how the story was delievered, and therefore I give 'Choral Society' 2.5/5 stars.


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