Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Winter's Tale

The release of a film based on a popular novel often spurs me to add the book to my reading list; rarely does it prompt me to see the movie. Such was the case with Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin, which had been on my "to read" list for at least a year, although I can't recall how it got there.

If I were a professor of literature, I might feel qualified to pass judgement on the quality of this novel. In my relative ignorance, however, I can't decide if it is brilliant or horrendous. In some places, it is barely readable, although I don't know whether I should attribute that to the author's fanciful, meandering prose or my poor understanding of it.

Apparently Mr. Helprin believes an incomplete sentence is one without a metaphor. While I certainly admire his ability to construct a vivid phrase, I often wished he would tone it down a little, much as I sometimes wish contestants on televised singing competitions were not so compelled to display their vocal acrobatics.

My primary criticism of the book is that it's simply too long. I'm not one to shrink from reading long novels, but this one had too much prose that did not advance the story in any way. The length could've been reduced by a third simply by removing the near constant descriptions of snow.

Also, the "mysteries" in the novel are never explained, which was annoying after finishing all 750 pages, hoping to find out what was so special about Peter Lake, or Hardesty's plate, or Jackson Mead, or the Lake of the Coheeries, and basically everything else in the story. I sense this is a type of religious allegory and I'm not tuned in enough to recognize the symbols. 

Otherwise, it is a diverting story full of interesting and likeable characters. Although it is described as "magical realism," I would classify it more as fantasy, which is not my favorite genre, so maybe that's why I wasn't enthralled.

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