Sunday, 4 May 2014

Review: 'Gone Are The Leaves' by Anne Donovan

20329433I saw this book on Netgalley and was enraptured by the blurb, so I was really happy when I got accepted for it. There are not a lot of authors who dare to write in dialect because it often alienates readers who are not familiar with the dialect and therefore can't get into the narrative.
Feilamort can remember very little of his childhood before he became a choir boy in the home of the Laird and his French wife. Feilamort has one of the finest voices in the land. It is a gift he believes will protect him...Deirdre has lived in the castle all her short life. Apprentice to her mother, she embroiders the robes for one of Scotland's finest families. She can capture, with just a few delicate stitches, the ripeness of a bramble or the glint of bronze on a fallen leaf. But with her mother pushing her to choose between a man she does not love and a closed world of prayer and solitude, Deirdre must decide for herself what her life will become. When the time comes for Feilamort to make an awful decision, his choice catapults himself and Deirdre head-first into adulthood. As the two friends learn more about Feilamort's forgotten childhood, it becomes clear that someone close is intent on keeping it hidden. Full of wonder and intrigue, and told with the grace and charm for which Anne Donovan is so beloved, Gone Are the Leaves is the enchanting story of one boy's lost past and his uncertain future.
I really enjoyed the writing in dialect. A lot of the time, especially when reading contemporary novels, I feel the voices of the characters are too put on and seem unnatural. My internal dialogue is a jumble of thoughts and is hardly ever, let's be honest: never, in clear prose. I do understand that authors need to make their characters feelings clear but often they go a little bit too far. What the dialect did for this novel is that it made it all the more intimate. It genuinely feels like you're reading someone else's thoughts because some words are so different. Somehow, and this might be weird, it felt very comforting because there is a melodic quality to how the language flows. This goes very well with the description of Deirdre's surroundings, a taste of which you can get from the synopsis above. Donovan seems to have a genuine passion for the nature and setting in which her characters move and this really comes across in her writing. However, it's not just dialect. Although most of the story is written from Deirdre's perspective, there are occasionally chapters from the perspective of other characters. The only sad thing is we never get to see Feilamort's point of view, which would have been interesting.

I really liked the plot. Rather than get swept up in the large politics of the time by choosing kings and queens as her characters, Donovan kept the narrative really close to the ground, most of which were introduced in the first few pages. However, as the narrative continues more and more intrigue is spun and the two main characters become quite helpless, had it not been for their friends. At times I was annoyed with the lack of agency in Deirdre, until I realized it is actually very realistic. Deirdre is an uneducated, young woman who has only been used to menial work up until now, so naturally she'd be lost when it came to travelling the waters that are international politics. So I commend Donovan for not making Deirdre a desperate heroine who decides to endanger everyone by "doing her own thing". It is actually a kind of strength to appreciate when others know more or are stronger and to let them take control.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed this novel and the atmosphere it creates. Although it is initially hard to get into due to the dialect, once you get used to it the Scottish really adds to the reading experience. And there is a dictionary in the back, for all those who really get lost! The characters are well-written and there is a good mix between suspense, action and description. I'd recommend it to people who are Historical Fiction fans and willing to try something different.

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