Since I’ve started writing fiction, one of two things happen when I read a book, (a) I read it purely for fun because I get too sucked into the story to remember to think about structure, characters, ect. (b) I read the book over critically and thus my review may not reflect the views of an average reader.
So when I opened “Love Always” by Harriet Evans, a best-selling author, and I saw a prologue, I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes. But I kept an open mind because Evans is an established author and knows what she’s doing. It was also a book recommended by a non-writer friend.
After reading the prologue, I was left slightly confused – there were no indications of who was who, I didn’t grasp what the ages were of the characters, what their names were or even what exactly was happening. When I had read through the whole book, I went back and re-read the prologue, which was clear as daylight, but you have to know the whole story to understand the prologue. A few more details would have been helpful, but that could also have given away too much, which is why Evans was probably vague on purpose.
Then to my surprise Chapter 1 started with the main character going somewhere, which I’ve read is not the best way to open a book AND she was reflecting on the past. There was a huge information dump along with numerous character introductions that I was flipping to the back of the book looking for a family tree to reference, but there wasn’t one. The back story goes on for about three chapters and it was starting to get exhausting. The story is as follows:
Natasha Kapoor travels back to Cornwall for her grandmother’s funeral. Not only is her life in crisis as her marriage and business are on the brink of failure, there is a secret hidden at Summercover – the family’s house by the sea. Natasha has never known the truth about how her aunt Cecily died years ago as a teenager and Summercove, and when she gets a hold of Cecily’s diary written during the summer she died (1963), past and present start to collide.
When the story starts to get going, Natasha is spurred into action not by her grandmother’s passing, or her relatives questions and concerns about her marriage and business, but by the bank manager who lectures her for a full chapter. This made me curious about her character as I would assume that someone would be more affected by the former influences. As Natasha starts to put in a serious effort and get her life organized, she reads her aunt’s diary.
It made sense that the pages of the diary were written in first person by Cecily, but what I didn’t understand was the unexplained switch to the summer of 1963. Without a lead-in or an introduction, Harriet Evans starts a new chapter, which re-lives the events of the summer of 1963 through Cecily’s point of view. This portion of the novel was not from the diary or was in anyway known Natasha. The author made the decision to do it without an explanation because it was necessary in order to fully understand what was written in Cecily’s diary and the relationships between Natasha’s family members.
As one of Natasha’s tasks is to find the diary, read it and then figure out the family’s secret, I wanted the novel to be a mystery. The reader becomes intrigued by the secret and what Natasha will discover. However, Natasha forgets about her task and the secret because her own life gets in the way. The author has to come in and remind her to do what her grandfather, Arvind, suggested she do.
Evans’s prose was well written and the story itself was interesting, but the execution seemed ill planned. It makes me wonder if Evan’s is a pantser and normally I would never know if an author is a plotter or pantser just by reading their work, but this novel read like it wasn’t planned. I went to Harriet Evans’s website and read her Q & A, and my hunch was correct, she is a pantser. Maybe best-selling authors gets more freedom in what they write because they already have an established audience?
I think I will pick up another book written by Evans to examine the output of “pantsed” novels.
Have you ever read a novel and been over critical? Have you ever read a novel that seemed disconnected or written without being planned first (pantsed)?