Beautifully written, but unfortunately just a little bit dull (3 stars)
Source- review copy
Published by Quercus, 2013
I read the paperback edition which was 256 pages. The hardcover is 238 pages.
I feel a bit bad for not liking Claire of the Sea Light more, particularly as it was gifted to me. On the other hand, I’m not going to lie- this novel just wasn’t as good as I expected it to be, particularly from that beautiful cover. The aforementioned title character also spends so little time amongst the pages that I’m somewhat at a loss to know why the title of the novel is actually what it is. You actually only really get to know Claire at the end of the book and by then it feels too late. I finished Claire of the Sea Light at the end of last week and I’ve been in no massive rush to review it as I can honestly say that it (regrettably) didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression on me.
Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—is a child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Her mother sadly dies in childbirth and on each of her subsequent birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her grave. Impoverished Nozias also wonders if he should give away his young daughter so that Claire can have a better future.
But on the night of her seventh birthday, when at last he makes the decision to do so, Claire vanishes. As the community searches for her, truths and painful secrets are revealed by individuals whose lives intertwine with those of the missing girl and her parents….
One particularly strong aspect of this story was its beautiful prose, which appealed to me from the outset. I have also mentioned before that I love books set by the sea and the author brings Haiti and the small town of Ville Rose vividly to life within the pages. I could feel the heat, sense the croaking of frogs by the river and hear the cadence of the creole language through the lush descriptions and atmospheric, almost poetical writing alone. The descriptions of grief and heartbreak too, were beautifully portrayed, with some powerful, emotive language.
I’m not a big fan of un-linear narratives at the best of times, but surprisingly the multiple tales in this book didn’t bother me too much. I think my main fault with this story and what disappointed me is that I didn’t especially connect with any of its characters. I felt sorry for some of their predicaments and of course the various losses that they had experienced, but their narratives moved so quickly that I didn’t feel that I as a reader, had the time to know them as individuals. Maybe that’s why as a result, I wasn’t as affected by their tales of grief and sorrow as much as I should have been. I wanted to know more about Claire and her father and I don’t think that was especially forthcoming.
So many people have raved about this book, that it’s possible that maybe I was just having an off-day when I read it, but even so, it just didn’t ‘grab me’ in the way I anticipated and whilst it was a short read I was honestly in no hurry to get back to it and finish it off. My overall feelings are that this was an ok book, but was ultimately nothing amazing. I would nevertheless recommend this tale of loss, grief and innocence to readers who admire beautiful prose and character-driven (rather than plot-focused) stories and possibly to those who enjoy magical realism in their reading choices. It could also be that this novel works beautifully as an audio book and had I experienced it in that medium, that I may have appreciated it more.
**Thank you to Midas PR for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.**