Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I was excited to pick up this novel because it got such exquisite reviews, but I'm afraid I can't recognize what all the fuss was about. The novel is set in foot-binding era China and is exceedingly well researched. The best bits were the factual ones; I really felt the horror of foot-binding in a way I never really had before. But the research completely overshadows the characters and the plot. Right now I'm reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (yes, I'm rather behind the rest of the reading public on this one) and where Golden has created full characters who are interesting in their own right, and placed them in historical, carefully researched context, See pretty much gave the research without creating the characters. The novel reads oddly like a summary. Where Golden writes in scene probably 85 percent of the time, See is in scene about 15 percent of the time, and the difference is huge. I think See might have done better to write a nonfiction book on her subject. But if what you want to write is a historical novel, well, best to put the novel elements first and the historical ones second.

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