Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review: 'Faithful' by Alice Hoffman

FaithfulMore frequent readers of my blog know that I have always had a soft spot for Alice Hoffman's writing. There is something magical about how she blends the ordinary with the extraordinary which makes reading her books both soothing and exhilarating at the same time. Hence every time I start a new book by her I am both excited and nervous. What if this is the book that falls flat for me? What if the magic is not there? Thankfully Hoffman never disappoints, especially with her latest, Faithful. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/11/2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.
What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.
Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.
Not many books can make me cry but Faithful managed to have me sobbing in the middle of the night. It's easy  to want to write about tragedies, about loss, heartbreak, love and forgiveness, and many authors do try. It's incredibly difficult, however, to create that fine nuance that can make these literary disasters come to life for the reader. Hoffman has perfected the art of writing about human life, and especially about human women. Whether it's her unnamed protagonist in The Ice Queen, Shelby in Faithful or the magical Owen sisters in Practical Magic, Hoffman writes women who live, dream, fear, hope, doubt and believe. Perhaps it is the fairy tale element in many of her books that makes them feel so real, because they are given a struggle. Their life never passes them by, they are never spectators to the happenings in their own inner selves. Novels about women often fall into self-help traps and there was a part of me that was worried Faithful would go there as well. Although this novel does lay out a "roadmap", as the blur above says, it is never pedantic, patronising or preachy. Rather, it is an inspiration.

At the heart of Faithful is Shelby, a teenage girl whose life is derailed by a car accident. Although her friend is the one in a coma, Shelby's life comes to a sharp stop. Grief, survivor's guilt and a whole series of bad events see Shelby reduced not only to a husk of her former self but to, in her own words, 'nothing'. Deeply cynical and yet secretly hopeful, Shelby is straight up lost and she knows it. As the reader follows her journey, Shelby encounters others in the process of finding themselves. This story could so easily have devolved into platitudes and cliches, yet Hoffman tells Shelby's story with an honest kindness. She doesn't leave anything in the dark, yet also never forgets her subjects are human. Shelby grows enormously throughout the novel, finding herself capable where she never expected, broken where she hopes to become fixed, and saved when she least expects it. Although she has an angel watching over her, it is Shelby who travels this road. It is she who makes her choices, who finds herself making choice after choice when she never thought she would be capable of choices.

Hoffman is, rightfully, heaped with praise for her writing and there is not much that a fledgling blogger like me could add to it. Her writing is magical because she finds the extraordinary moments in life, whether it is noticing a shaking hand or a dog's loyal nature. It was these moments which broke my heart because they are true. I was crying at the kindness of strangers, the love of mothers, the trust of children, and the beauty of a starry night. I was also soothed by these exact things. Life can be heartbreaking and heartwarming, it both breaks you and make you, and Hoffman always finds that balance. Although my life has been a lot less tragic than Shelby's, I could identify with her need for forgiveness and for a reason. A reason for everything, for all the things, all the people, all the moments that become a part of your life and not someone else's. It is painful to read someone writing about your emotions, your thoughts, but there is also something rehabilitating about it. Reading Faithful, reading all of Hoffman's books, brings me that healing pain which makes you stronger at the end of a book. It is something I've never found with any other author and it is why I will always treasure Hoffman's books.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Faithful stunned me, broke me and then put me back together. Yes that sounds dramatic, but I walked away from this novel with an incredibly amount of hope. I will be rereading Faithful numerous times and it will join the list of books that changed me. I'd recommend this, naturally, to fans of Hoffman but also to those who are looking for the magic of writing and the beauty in an ordinary life.

1 comment:

  1. Great review would you like a free copy of one of mine?
    Hi – just to say I have taken over the Discover New Historical Fiction group.
    Here is a link to my recently published historical novel set in thirteenth-century England
    Best wishes to you and yours
    Darius Stransky