10 March 2010

A Song in The Daylight (Paullina Simons)

This is what happens when you spend two years away from the book trade. Whilst in the past 16 months I have become an absolute virtuoso in the art of 'pretending to care during child-related activities', a masterchef from the school of 'Dinner in 10 Minutes or Less' and a champion in the competitive sport of 'Saving Your Tears for the Privacy of Your Loft', I have NO IDEA what books are out at the moment.

Thus, it was with a squeal of delight that I realised Paullina Simons had a new novel out. Generally speaking, Simons is a very misunderstood author. The publicity and marketing drongos who represent Paullina need to ACTUALLY READ one of her books. Look at these covers-

I would go straight for these books only if I had a 39 hour plane trip ahead of me and needed to mindlessly fill the hours. However, I would be disappointed. The reader who buys these covers is not prepared for what lies between them- emotionally destructive tragedies of the heart and mind. The epic struggle of the modern American writer who cannot help but mine her depressing Russian heritage. Extremely explicit sex scenes. (Not the sort of thing you want the person next to you catching a glimpse of. My ex-boyfriend once read one and expressed absolute horror and disgust at what he deemed to be highly inappropriate reading for me.)

I digress...

Marketing gripes aside, I was ridiculously excited to get A Song in the Daylight. Friday afternoon a few weeks ago I made a trip to Sainsbury's and bought the necessities: iced coffee, KitKats and apples. I cancelled my weekend plans. Friday evening, after my duties with the children were complete, I curled up in bed. I opened the covers, already shivering slightly. I took one last look through my skylight at the grey world, anticipating I would next view it from the highly charged emotional state of the post-Paullina meltdown I normally experience at the denouement of her novels.

48 hours later I scoffed one last scoff and slammed the covers shut.

It started off well enough. Larissa, the beautiful, discontent housewife, meets the young, dangerously sexy Kai. Should she leave with him, or stay behind to be with her husband and children? It could have been compelling, if Larissa was in any way likeable. However, instead of a heroine I could sympathise with, I got a heroine who disgusted me with every turn of the page. Selfish, weak, whiny, spiteful, vacuous and stupid. Who cares whether she goes or stays? I didn't become attached to her children or husband enough to worry about their fate. Kai, I felt, was too two-dimensional to warrant the drama he created. He ate sushi! He drove a motorcycle! SWOON. The only interesting characters in the novel were given extremely limited page space, making it hard to care about them either. Maggie and her kidney problem was a particularly unnecessary waste of ink.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. Che was a very interesting character, being a protester in the Philippines and all. Only problem is, that story line was completely incongruous to the rest of the plot.

Simons obviously realised the structure of the novel was a bit off, so she attempted to pull everything together in the last third. Then she realised that wasn't going to work, so she just decided to kill everyone. (Not everyone. That is hyperbolic.) Let's just say she decided to indulge in her tragic Russian side when all else failed.

Was it worth the weekend I set aside? Most definitely. Simons can still write melodrama better than anyone else out there, making it seem honest, necessary and even restrained. I get the feeling a lot of the time with Simons that her novels are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how much damage she could ACTUALLY do to my heart if she really tried.

If you're a Simons fan this is of course a must-read (although you probably knew about it last September). If you are new to the Simons wagon, I would suggest picking up The Girl in Times Square first. It is my favourite other than The Bronze Horseman, but I would not recommend starting with that. That is not for the faint-hearted. I lost days crying over that book.

I didn't lose any days crying over this book. But I lost a bit of my faith in Paullina. Which is very sad indeed.
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