The book I love most is.... The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger is way up there - I found myself relating to that character in a way I never have before. Dark Hollow by John Connolly is another - John is a wonderful writer, really lyrical, and easily one of the coolest people I know. I could list a dozen more.
Monday, November 28, 2011
The Dovekeepers - reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino
I’ve only read a handful of the 23 adult novels US author Alice Hoffman has produced but I’ve enjoyed the way she marries a fey fairytale quality with grittier real-world themes. So her latest book took me by surprise. The Dovekeepers (Simon & Schuster, $37) isn’t fey at all, it’s harrowing and epic, and has left a number of images seared on my brain that I’d rather forget.
The story is set in ancient Israel and is based on real events although the characters are fictional. In 70 AD nearly a thousand Jews held on for nine months in a mountain stronghold in Judea as the Romans lay siege. It is believed that only two women and five children survived the bloodbath at the finish.
Hoffman centres her re-telling of this history round four women.
Yael is downtrodden and submissive. Her mother died in childbirth and her father, an elite assassin, has always hated her for it. Yet when they are forced to flee into the desert, it is Yael’s spirit and strength that keeps them alive. The pair seek refuge in Masada, Herod’s fortress in the mountains between the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. It is there Yael becomes a dovekeeper and falls in with three other women. Revka was once content in her life as a baker’s wife. Since then she has lived through unimaginable horror and loss, committed her own atrocity and been left with two mute grandsons and a burden of grief and guilt. Aziza is a young and beautiful warrior, as adept with weapons as any man, who finds love and destruction in equal measure. And Shirah is a wise woman who makes predictions and casts spells. It is her passion for another woman’s husband that has brought her to Masada and sealed the fate of her family.
It took Hoffman five years of research and writing to complete this work and I can see why. It’s a weighty thing, enormously detailed about everyday life. Women don’t feature much in the history of this period and Hoffman’s bid to redress the balance shows how little has changed in many ways. Beyond the basics of survival Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah have concerns that are just as familiar today: love, childbirth, friendship, putting food on the table, keeping family safe.
Personally I had a few issues with The Dovekeepers. The first is the mock biblical style the whole thing is written in. There are times when the story slows and getting through this sort of prose is like swimming in syrup. The second is that it’s too long. Surely if some of the 500 pages had been cut, it would have been a better book for it? And the third is that it’s relentlessly tragic. There is vast suffering, atrocity after brutality, misery piled onto pain. While this may be historically accurate, such large-scale suffering becomes depressing, and ultimately I found it numbing.
Despite all that, the story held and fascinated me. This is an ambitious and extraordinary book, with a vividness of place and character. Hoffman’s imagination seems boundless and she took me to a world I won’t forget. While it was something of a relief to finish the book, I’ve thought about it daily since.
Possibly it won’t please all of Hoffman’s fans but book clubs should seek out The Dovekeepers as should older teens or anyone with a passion for history re-imagined.
Nicky Pellegrino, (left NZH photo), a succcesful Auckland-based author of popular fiction is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review and the following Booklover piece were first published on 27 November, 2011
Crime writer Paul Cleave (left) was the winner of this year’s Dame Ngaio Marsh Award and his most recent book is Collecting Cooper (Simon & Schuster)
The book I'm reading right now is.... Worth Dying For by Lee Child. It's damn good. And I'd put Lee in the top five storytellers in the world. I hadn't read him for about two years, and just read 61 Hours last week and am now on Worth Dying For and it's such a thrill to be back in his world.
The book I'd like to read next is....Well, I have a few friends writing their first novels, so one of them would be great. But the next book I'm going to read will probably be something by crime writer Simon Kernick.
The book that changed me is..... Mind Hunter by John Douglas. He's the guy who helped create the FBI Behavioural Science Unit. I read that book about 12 years ago. Before then I’d always wanted to be a horror author - but this guy pointed out that the real horror is crime, it happens in everyday life, and that is very, very scary. I read his books and then wrote The Cleaner.
My favourite bookshop is.... Penny's Bookshop, in Hamilton. Linda, who works there, does these great displays for my books when they come out - plus she imported stock of my fifth book from the US as it wasn't released here.
The book I wish I'd never read is.....Again there's a few; John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing, Stephen King's Under the Dome, pretty much anything by Lee Child. And why? Because when these books come along they make me want to give up writing. These guys are so talented that they make it seem my books should be written in crayon.