Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's Cavendon Hall

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

The Inghams and the Swanns are inseparable. For hundreds of years the Swanns have served their noble lieges becoming more like family then staff. Their children are brought up together and their bonds are unbreakable. Those bonds will be tested when a horrific attack on the Earl's most precious daughter, Lady Daphne, brings danger to the very heart of Cavendon. The Swanns close ranks to protect Lady Daphne from any further threats, even her own family if necessary. But danger doesn't just circle the family, the world is on the brink of war. Can these two families in crisis come together to help each other through the horrors they have to face and the dangers to come? Or will their bonds start to fray?

Sometimes you need to go to a happy, if unbelievable place, where the moon is always full and servants are like family, just to take you away from your cares. Where everyone loves everyone else, though perhaps a little too much with the incestuous nature between the Inghams and the Swanns. I almost expected them to start quoting that other famous resident of Yorkshire, Emily Brontë, by saying of the Inghams and the Swanns, "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." This isn't high art or great literature like Emily, this is pure fun, like Downton Abbey on crack, without the constant threat of one of the Bateses ending up in the clink. These magical happy pills make even the worst situation not only bearable, but work for everyones benefit and eventual happiness. Though seriously, I would like to know how there's always a full moon.

Cavendon Hall does suffer from an unevenness. Most of this has to do with pacing, but also how it's stylistically written and sometimes falls prey to self aggrandisement. Tackling the later, I really would like other authors opinions on quoting yourself. Each part of the book begins with a series of quotes from Shakespeare to Tennyson to Emma Harte. Emma Harte? As in A Woman of Substance Emma Hart? Yes, Barbara Taylor Bradford just quoted herself. By placing this quote with actual quotable greats I can't tell if she's just using something to hand that she thinks works or is trying to elevate her art to a new level? Either way, it seems a bit shady to quote your own characters in a setting that isn't tongue-in-cheek. Makes me think she's more then a little full of herself... but if any of my author friends would like to weigh in I would love to hear what they have to say.

As for the unevenness, it's not just that she occasionally switches up her writing style to be hyper sexual for a paragraph only to revert to her staid writing style of every other page, but the way time is handled is troublesome. Two years take up the first 279 pages while the final 126 pages is six years. So there's this nice introduction, we get to know everyone and become a part of their daily lives to have it all then whoosh past us at light speed. I'm not sure if it's that Barbara Taylor Bradford just didn't want to handle WWI in detail or what. I would say it almost felt as if she was sick of telling her story, but seeing as this is a series with the next book coming out in March, she couldn't be sick of her characters already if she's writing even more about them? But I think this can be a universal gripe to all authors, don't make us fall in love with your characters and then shift focus and gloss over things. Stay consistent within the narrative. All your books don't have to be the same, just the one you're currently writing should be consistent. And if it ends up a doorstop of a novel, so be it, I'll read it.

What I feel is the driving narrative of the book is also in my mind one of the biggest issues. This is, of course, Lady Daphne's rape at the very beginning of the book. Rape is a hard issue to deal with sensitively and properly. Just look at last season of Downton Abbey where Anna's rape split the audience with those who just didn't want more misery for Anna to those who thought the rape storyline was brave, and finally to those who thought the storyline was just handled insensitively. With such a hot button topic it has become rather inappropriately in my mind a way to add drama and spice to a story. When in doubt have your strong female character attacked and assaulted. To me this just seems like a convenience versus a real desire to tackle the issue.

Even in writing about the events in the book I feel uncertain as to how to describe the event critically. The attack and the cover up that surrounds it to me smacks of not wanting to confront something horrible, but wanting to make it like it never happened. This is where my problem lies. The stigma of speaking out. Yes, this was a different time period and "reputation" was the be all end all, but still... this is a problem that still exists and even "period" literature that holds this opinion of silence being the best solution just adds to the problem.

And while the rape and it's repercussions does drive the story, it's how Barbara Taylor Bradford built off this to create a greater atmosphere of fear that kept me reading. Taking the "pervert in the woods" and expanding his reach, showing the terror and fear his other sightings added to the story, this took the book further. I can't help thinking though that if this fear is removed, how will the next book have any tension or jeopardy to keep the spark of interest going in the reader. I also can't help but think if Lady Daphne had told all after her attack that a lot of other bad situations would have been avoided... perhaps Barbara Taylor Bradford was subtly saying that silence isn't the solution... then again, she could have just wanted to scare us and keep reading her book. Anything for the story right?


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