The Beauty of the End, by Debbie Howells***

thebeautyoftheendI rate this novel 2.5 stars and round it upward.  Thank you to Kensington Books and Net Galley for allowing me to read this book free and in advance in exchange for an honest review.  Here it is.

Howells is a word smith, and I suspect that if she had adopted a simpler format, she might have had a more appealing result. In places her settings are resonant and well turned.  It’s character development and a badly disjointed plot that burden this story and prevent it from taking off.

This story is full of dead babies, but neither the horror nor the pathos ordinarily associated with such a thing can save it. It merely makes the misery worse.

Here are the broad contours. Noah Calaway is a former attorney living in the English countryside. His inheritance has provided him enough to get by on and he spends his time writing, or more often, not writing. His secret sorrow is the one that got away. When he learns that April, the woman he loved and that left him just before their wedding is lying in a coma and suspected of committing a terrible murder, he signs on to defend her and clear her name.

Most of the narrative is Noah’s, but from time to time another narrative, one distinguished by being written in italics, interrupts the flow, and we have no idea what the young woman speaking there has to do with any of Noah’s story. Ella is troubled and is seeing a psychologist, but the author goes to such pains to keep her link to Noah’s story a mystery that we might as well be reading two separate stories for most of the book.  Instead of wanting to know what the connection was, I found myself annoyed whenever Ella popped in to prevent me from getting to the end of Noah’s story.

Howells takes such pains to keep us in the dark that she doesn’t develop her characters. We see a few shattered glimpses of what may have motivated April, who has no role to play in the present, but both Noah and Ella remain two dimensional, their personalities left static by withholding too much information.  The result is that after some earnest effort to engage with the text, since that’s what I do, I eventually found I didn’t care what the connection between them was. I guessed it eventually, but there was none of the joy of discovery that usually accompanies that sort of revelation.

Staggered narratives are very trendy, and in the right hands they still can be magical. But here, it just doesn’t take. I was frustrated and wanted to abandon the novel, which seemed as if it might never end, but I forced myself to finish reading it because I had an obligation to the publisher.

That doesn’t have to happen to you.

3 thoughts on “The Beauty of the End, by Debbie Howells***

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