Review: The Sunrise; Victoria Hislop

Well-researched, though not as strong as her other novels (3 stars)

Source- review copy

Published by Headline Books on 25th September 2014

I read the Kindle edition. The hardback is 481 pages.

I was desperate to read this novel- and I mean desperate! I am a big Victoria Hislop fan and was counting down the days to the release date of this book. Happily, I was granted a review copy from the publishers, which meant I could get to it just that little bit earlier.

This story of ambition, war and desire is set in the summer of 1972.  In Famagusta, Cyprus, a determined hotelier and his wife are about to open ‘The Sunrise’ a spectacular hotel complex which is set to employ hundreds of locals and eclipse any resort the island has ever seen before. Underneath the desirable façade of Famagusta however, lies unrest and tension which is slowly bubbling to the surface.

After a Greek coup, Cyprus descends into chaos and conflict. Following an invasion by Turkey to protect the Turkish-Cypriot inhabitants, Famagusta is shelled and forty thousand people flee the city, leaving behind a mere ghost town of a few straggling survivors. The Sunrise is their story.

I am somewhat conflicted when it comes to my review of this novel as I think I enjoyed the idea of it more than the story itself, unfortunately, which really pains me to say as I had been so looking forward to it. Initially I had this down as 3 and a half stars out of five, but the more I think about how this book made me feel, I have to reconsider that rating.  Whilst I appreciated The Sunrise and found it to be nicely-written and full of realistic historic detail, I have to say that for me it just didn’t deliver the magic that Hislop’s other books have to date and it nowhere near engaged me in the way her books have in the past.  That being said, I think it will be really tough for any of her work to exceed The Island, a beautiful, emotive book that I absolutely devoured.

I think possibly a part of my problem is that the author really seems to spend a lot of time telling her readers what is happening this time around, rather than merely showing them like she has in previous novels. The subject matter is a somewhat complex one, I realise that, but some of the sentence structure felt clunky and a bit forced as details about the military factions, the coup and various events were relayed in an almost text-book fashion, then some other seemingly important aspects were glossed over entirely.  The prose didn’t flow as naturally as in her other books in these parts and as a consequence of this, I must admit that I struggled to really connect with the storyline and its characters.  This could have been partly  to do with the Netgalley formatting in places however, as some of the dialogue ran over paragraphs and grew confusing on occasion, so sometimes it was unclear as to who was speaking to who and if a setting had changed. I was frustrated however, when it felt like the book was really building up to something, only to find that the context of the story then veered off into then being set years later with that infamous ‘…’ how I hate those three little dots!

Despite those quibbles, Hislop really excels in imparting an extraordinarily vivid atmosphere into her novels; no matter where they are set I can clearly imagine myself there. In The Sunrise I was transported to Cyprus and its decadent hotels and glorious beaches, which were beautifully described.  I do remember visiting Cyprus almost ten years ago and it wasn’t difficult trying to envisage the upcoming resorts in the 1970’s and the impact the burgeoning tourism trade had on the island and its locals. I think for me, the vibrant portrayals of Famagusta were my favourite parts of the book.

I really struggled to like any of the three main protagonists in this story though as none of them seemed to have any redeeming qualities.  All of them were preoccupied by money and status and clearly motivated by greed and I struggled to see past that. There was also a romantic element introduced which I didn’t find particularly convincing. Even following devastating events after the coup it was clear that the priorities of these three individuals didn’t really change, which I absolutely detested and really couldn’t understand! Then again, I suppose it speaks of the authors’ ability in crafting characters that readers dislike so much? One of the main characters, after having something completely horrific and life-changing happen to them, was then omitted entirely from the story until the very end. I wanted to know if and how they had been able to come to terms with said events, but never really found out, which felt like something of a missed opportunity. This, amongst a few other aspects is what I am referring to in part when I stated earlier that some parts of the plot did feel a bit ‘glossed over.’

I far preferred to read about the lives of the secondary characters in the book, whom I found much more interesting and relatable, though there were quite a lot of them to get to know. As the storyline progressed the reader came to see the impact that the military action was having on the lives of the everyday Greek and Turkish Cypriot people and the death and destruction wrought on families and their struggle to survive, which were definitely the strongest bits of the novel. Their hunger, sorrow and devastation at what had become of their country were depicted very realistically and though these parts of the story were bleak, they were important nonetheless. These events happened less than half a century ago and it is essential that they are never forgotten and I think Hislop did a commendable job in bringing this to the fore.

Abysmal Netgalley formatting aside, I am ultimately glad I persevered with this novel as it was a rewarding read on a subject matter that doesn’t tend to be covered too much in fiction and I feel that I learned a lot more about the conflict in Cyprus as a result of it.  That being said, as a Victoria Hislop fan, I do feel somewhat disenchanted by her latest offering, unfortunately.

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2 responses to “Review: The Sunrise; Victoria Hislop

  1. I agree with your take on the book. Beautiful evocation of time and place but I just couldn’t get away with The Sunrise remaining standing for 6 months, untouched by looters, however good the security was. And little things like having no electricity would mean having no water, so the fact folks were showering several months down the line (not to mention water for cooking) just didn’t ring right at all. But I do think it brings focus to such a recent period of history!

  2. Pingback: September Reading Analysis | my good bookshelf·

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