Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's The Cavendon Luck

The Cavendon Luck by Barbara Taylor Bradford
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 7th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

The Cavendons and the Swanns have weathered tragedy and loss but have always had luck and the wherewithal to marshal their resources and come out on top. They will need that luck more than ever as the clouds of war start to mass over Europe. They see hard times coming and retrenchment will happen, but as long as they can stand as a united front they are undefeatable. The eldest "D" Dierdre is more aware of the dire situation they all face than the rest of the family. After the sudden death of her husband she returned to her covert work with the government. Burying her sorrows in work with a purpose. Now her work has a purpose much closer to home. Her sister-in-law Cecily has a devoted employee whose family is still in Berlin. To make matters worse they are Jewish intellectuals. Dierdre will use her connection at the war off as well as an old friend to attempt to save one family of the millions that will die. But this is just one part of the larger war machine that is starting up. On the homefront there is preparations to be made, jams to be canned, inappropriate alliances to be quashed. While once war breaks out there are children fighting in the fields to worry about, danger from the skies, and worry every single day. Not all the Cavendons will live to see the end of the war. But life during wartime the cruelest of sacrifices are to be dreaded, though sadly expected.

For some reason I feel duty bound to have liked this book or to find something positive to say about it but the only thing I can think of to say is that it was insipid. And that's being kind. Each volume in this trilogy, please say it's only a trilogy, has been declining in quality and the rapid descent from The Cavendon Women to The Cavendon Luck has made me question the need to keep the first two volumes on my bookshelves. Each book has had less and less to make it work to the point where I was severely struggling to even finish The Cavendon Luck. It is not a joke to say that when I hit the half-way point in this book I had to put it down for almost a month to steel myself to push on through to the end. Now I'm not saying this was as heroic as those brave fishermen Bradford incongruously writes about evacuating troops from the shores of Normandy... but I did feel like I was at war with this book just to get through the next page let alone the next chapter with waves of repetitive and self-congratulatory writing buffeting me about. The entire book was a stagnate quagmire with no forward momentum. There's no desire to read on to see the characters develop and grow, which they of course don't. In fact Bradford is continually stating the characters ages in an apparent need to remind us that time is indeed moving, because the sad fact is, Cecily at fifty-something is the exact same as she was as a teenager. And Taylor reminding us? Well, that just shows she knew the flaws existed and didn't bother to fix them.

But what is remarkable about The Cavendon Luck is that this must be the most asinine handling of WWII I have ever read. This can be broken down into the covert antics pre-war and the stock vignettes during the war. And seriously, I'm not sure which is worse, you'll have to decide. And yes, you can make your decision from my review, I'd never force anyone to read this book. As it was stated earlier, the oldest "D" aka Dierdre, is in "intelligence." A well-known secret in the family that NO ONE talks about or has actually bothered substantiating with Dierdre. So Dierdre takes up much of the narrative with attempting to get the family of Cecily's worker out of Germany. My problem with this is that firstly, Cecily's assistant is a new character, so why should we care about the plight of people who we aren't emotionally invested in? Yes, this might sound callous because all human life is important, but narratively speaking it was Bradford's job to make us care. And she doesn't! But most importantly it's the ludicrous codes and pet names that Dierdre uses in her daily work calling her contacts that makes this plot line unbearable. If this had been done tongue-in-cheek, like say The Avengers, it could have worked. But every time Dierdre was referred to as Daffy Dilly or the weather was mentioned as to gauge how things were in Germany, gag me now. Please. It took something that should be fascinating and made it cartoonish. Just no. And as for that family needing evacuation? Oh, they'll be evacuated and then their plot line will be left dangling with a quick sentence later on thrown to us as a bone.

Yet little did I know that "Daffy Dilly" would be sophisticated to what came later. I groan just even remembering it. For some reason Bradford decided to handle the war itself in the swiftest and most oblique way possible. Little vignettes with people we may or may not know in different defining moments of the war, from the London Blitz to Dunkirk, all book-ended by long quotes from Churchill. And oh gee, wasn't Churchill just the best! It just seems such a weird way to handle the war. A book that's been all about the personal connection to these two entwined families becomes something akin to a WWII special shown for Veterans Day on PBS. A highlights reel of what the brave British endured. But of course we can't have the war overshadow our story, it's only about a fifth of the book. So why even have the war in the book then? I just don't get the handling of time in this series. To luxuriate and draw out say a three week period where the family goes to Europe and have the same page count for the entirety of the war makes no sense. Time stops and starts, juddering about, stagnating and then whooshing by at the speed of light taking many family members in it's wake. But this writing style has been problematic from the beginning it's just in the final volume that I have to say enough is enough. No more of this doggerel.

Sticking with the war, I really want to know how the Cavendons and the Swanns were so omniscient. The ENTIRE book leading up to the war was them discussing the fact war was coming. Yes, war was looming ever since the strictures forced on Germany at the end of WWI, but to have everyone talk about it so blithely and confidentially seemed wrong. There's preparedness and then there's omniscience that comes from a modern writer wanting to make her characters seem smarter and more prescient. Yes, it's great that the WI played such a key roll and actually their jam making and preserves might be one of the only interesting parts of this book, and makes me want to learn more about that, but then there's the flip side. I'm not talking about the whole Churchill is the future and will save us, which is a whole other kettle of fish, I'm talking about Cecily, in particular, being confident in the coming war and not just being a savvy business woman with scaling back her fashion empire, but strategically buying warehouses that the army would need which she would then lease to them. There's a word for that. War profiteering. So not only did I become sick of the love-in between the Cavendons and the Swanns, but I grew to despise them because they come above all else and they will stoop to anything when it comes to preserving the family home. Even profiting from death!

Going beyond the war, looming or otherwise, the basic framework of the D's has always been very much influenced by the Mitford sisters. In this installment it got absurdly so. In fact so much of the D's and in particular their trip to Germany was ripped right from the life of the Mitfords that I felt it was veering on plagiarism. Bradford even compounded this problem by mentioning the Mitfords at one point. If you've read any of the biographies written on or by the Mitfords the whole feel of Berlin was lifted almost verbatim from their pages. Yes, this series originally intrigued me because it was like a mirrored Mitford life, but once it left homage and veered into stealing outright, this has become the darkest timeline. Just don't read this series anymore. From the beginning of the book I was thinking that this series would continue on because poor DeLacey has never been showcased. Turns out DeLacey is the Pamela or Unity Mitford of our tale, first relegated to the sidelines and them unceremoniously killed in an air raid. And, as someone who felt sorry for her, I came to the conclusion that her death was the best for all of us. Hopefully it means no more books about the Cavendons. Seriously. This is my biggest wish for the future.


Newer Post Older Post Home