Monday, 24 August 2015

Review: 'The Marriage of Opposites' by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman has become one of my favourite authors in the last year or so. Her The Museum of Extraordinary Things was beautiful in its dreamy fantasy, whereas Property Of made my heart race. When I saw Hoffman had a new book coming out I knew I simply had to read it. Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 04/08/2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.
Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.
Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
Hoffman's writing is among my favourites. Her descriptions and characterizations always seem imbued with life and genuine affection. In The Marriage of Opposites there is plenty of both descriptions and characters. The novel starts with Rachel, a girl who is becoming a woman and is expected to take her role within her community. Hoffman beautifully describes Rachel's dislike for the rules and regulations that come both from being a woman in the 1800s but also for the way her religion influences her life. At times Rachel isn't the most likeable of characters, almost too headstrong, but at other times Hoffman makes the reader care and feel for her intensely. As such, Hoffman has created a beautiful main character in Rachel, who really carries the story of the whole novel. Although The Marriage of Opposites also switches between the point of views of different characters, it does so very clearly and always with a purpose. If the next part of a story really needs to be told from a different perspective than Hoffman doesn't shy away from doing so.

A real strength of The Marriage of Opposites is the multi-generational aspect of the story. This is a component of much of Hoffman's writing, such as Practical Magic, and always adds to the power of the story. It is interesting to see how events impact a family over a longer period of time, how things that happen to the grand-parents affects what happens to the grandchildren. By allowing stories to take place over years Hoffman is able to let her characters actually live and develop, to change over time and to play a continuous role. It is a much more realistic representation of family life than you get in many novels. What also adds to this is the continuing sense of cultures clashing. Whether it's the Creole culture of Adelle or the Jewish religion of Rachel and her family or the Parisian je ne sais quoi, there is a constant meeting of lifestyles and ways which is very interesting. Hoffman judges none of the cultures in her novel but also doesn't shy away from showing their good and bad sides. There is a beautiful mixing and co-existing of cultures in The Marriage of Opposites, which really lifts this book up.

In The Marriage of Opposites Hoffman tells the tale of the Rachel Pomié, mother to the artist Camille Pissarro, one of the key figures in the Impressionist movement. As such, the novel has the ungratefuly duty of showing the way in which in which this painter may have seen the world. The way Hoffman describes the nature on St. Thomas, the smells of food or the vibrancy of Paris draws the reader straight into her characters' world. The way Hoffman describes the world around her, both by drawing the reader's attention to colours and by the strong theme of stories or narratives that runs through the novel, makes it come to life for the reader. Hoffman's fluid and enthusiastic writing means the novel races past you and is very difficult to put down. 

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading The Marriage of Opposites. Technically historical fiction, the novel does really well in sticking to the key facts of Rachel's life while never not allowing the novel's story to develop on its own as well. I'd recommend this novel to fans of Historical Fiction and Women's Fiction.

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