Wednesday, May 26, 2010

book clubbing in May

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was one of the books I was most looking forward to reading this book club cycle. I like historical fiction and tend to enjoy books that have both a contemporary and historical storyline. Witchcraft during the Colonial period is something that's fascinated me since elementary school when I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Tituba of Salem Village. I'd heard lots of good things about Physick Book so I was absolutely sure that I'd love it. Unfortunately I was disappointed in it. While I found it to be a quick and compelling read, I was frustrated by gaps in the plot and (more than anything else) how the author handled the contemporary protagonist. I can't get into more detail without including spoilers, but I felt like the author copped out. Physick Book had so much potential and the fact that it didn't live up to that potential was my biggest disappointment.

We did, however, have a really great discussion at book club. I-liked-the-book-but... seemed to be the general consensus of the book clubbers (though, of course, the degree of like varied from person to person). Though it is interesting to note that those who listed to the audio book seemed to have a better impression of the novel that those who read paper or e-book copies.

We discussed (among other things):
  • the way the author portrays libraries and librarians in the novel
  • the relationship between Connie and her mother
  • whether we found Connie to be a sympathetic character or not (as well as strange aspects of her character)
  • the lack of significant depth to the historical narratives and the disconnect between that lack of depth and the fact that the author is a scholar of Colonial New England
  • how we felt the author's editor failed her
  • the disjointedness of the historical narratives
  • the actions of some of individual characters
  • how much we'd guessed or suspected about the story's ending as we were reading the novel
  • why the contemporary portion of the novel was set in 1991 (and the anachronisms we noticed)
Physick Book is Howe's first book. I'll be interested to see how she develops as a writer.

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