This is a generic work of historical fiction that has me questioning my past literary judgment – because I loved the author’s first novel, The Seamstress, to pieces, and thought it was a fantastic literary adventure, featuring two divergent but equally compelling storylines. That was nine years ago, though, and I did not find any of the wonder I remember seeing there in this eminently forgettable book.
Apparently inspired by the career of 1940’s Hollywood musical star Carmen Miranda, this book relates the story of two Brazilian girls who grow up on a sugar plantation, are enraptured by music, run away from home to make their way, and end up singing samba and finally making movies. It’s told from the first-person perspective of Dores, a hardscrabble orphan who befriends the privileged, self-absorbed Graça. Dores is the smart, practical one with a talent for songwriting, while Graça is the diva who captivates audiences.
The novel flows smoothly enough, with competent writing; it’s a quick read and long enough to live in for a little while. That said, it lacks rawness, vitality, momentum; we basically know what’s going to happen from the beginning, and then spend 450 pages following the course that’s been charted out from the start, without any real excitement or surprise, but with standard-issue philosophizing about life from a character supposed to be looking back on events from her 90s. Unfortunately, the first-person voice tends to obscure rather than reveal any personality Dores may have; it’s a generic voice for a generic character in a generic historical fiction story.
The other characters are pretty generic as well – Graça is the only one with much in the way of personality, while the supporting members of the band lack not only personalities but also lives and relationships of their own, to the point that how they feel about unexpectedly spending several years in a foreign country is never even mentioned. The two women’s antagonistic devotion to each other was never entirely convincing to me either; it largely felt like a result of the fact that the novel didn’t have room for distractions like developing their relationships with lovers or other friends, rather than anything organic.
So, unfortunately, the generic title and cover art turned out to be representative of the work as a whole – fine escapism if you want a nice long predictable novel, but nothing more than that. It isn’t terrible, but there’s nothing in the plot or characters or writing that stands out. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest music lover and don’t tend to love books about music; if you did love this, you’ll likely also enjoy The Gods of Tango, another Latin American LGBT music-focused novel (which also disappointed me). I am curious to listen to some samba, though.
I´m a little bit fed up with gothic horror novels. The Silent Companions is another one of these lackluster attempts at writing an atmospheric, creepy and scary book and doesn´t hit the mark on any of these three things. Add to this a main character, who I disliked from the very first page and an ending, which didn´t make any sense at all.
And I would really appreciate if an author gives a more sophisticated reason for a malicious spirit being evil. In this book it basically boils down to "The ghost is evil because the person in real life has been evil". No explanation whatsoever why said person is evil and above all, what was the objective of this ghost. Why did it do all the things it did?
I get it, it´s a "devils spawn" kind of plot. I was so bored by all of it.
Since this book wasn´t scary at all, I´m not batting an eyelash at putting out the lights tonight. On to the next read.
I found this to be a very entertaining read, which helped give me a real feel for the period when the electricity cables started to connect the cities and then towns of North America. Moore did a great job of invoking a sense of place and time. I felt the magic of those times, so appropriately generated, by profound technological progress. The alchemy of turning night to day was of an order of wonder only matched in my lifetime by the Apollo missions to the Moon.
My difficulty with this reading is small and to many will seem pedantic. That being my strong preference that writers of historical fiction never play fast and loose with the known timelines of events. Facts and the time on which they act should be sacrosanct in the reporting of history. The writer should only weave his fiction, his story, on the solid framework of all commonly accepted truth. He may of course dispute details if there is a case to be argued, such that perhaps in one infamous earlier history ‘the princes weren’t suffocated in the Tower of London’ and Richard III didn’t have the extreme deformity reported by Shakespeare. However, to condense and distort events is to rip deep slashes into the fabric of the past.
This book, despite telling the story so well can finally stand only as an entertainment; a first class one, an informative one, but mere entertainment nevertheless.
Crude measure of a book should be awarded simply on the qualities of the writing, and so giving less than five stars where such banality is demanded would be disingenuous indeed.
This is the final book in this trilogy, following on from The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, both of which were a tough act to follow - this is, however, a series that really works for me in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of its use of language.
At the end of the previous book, our protagonist (Vasya) has caused the burning of the city of Moscow and is threatened with being burned for witchcraft. This book is the one where Vasya's powers really come into their own, as she uses her position as the metaphorical bridge between humankind and the chyorti to try and stem an imminent invasion.
Once, of course, she's managed to escape from the clutches of a particular obsessed priest and discover a little more about her mother's mysterious relatives. One especially will be familiar to anyone who knows Russian folklore, just from the description of the house where she used to live...
It's another great, page-turning read and I enjoyed it very much. Two sales for the price of one, as well - I got this copy from my local library, with plans to get my own in paperback once it's out later this year.