Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Starts with a whimper, but ends with a bang

The Time In Between
by Maria Dueñas

I have to admit that Simon and Schuster piqued my curiosity about this title simply because they promoted it so heavily prior to its publication.  In my mind, that’s a huge vote of confidence from the publishing house.  And, apparently it has been a bestseller in Europe, where it was originally published.  Alas, my own response to The Time in Between was mixed.  It got off to a rocky start, but ended much stronger—which is a better situation than had it been the other way ‘round.

With regard to the “rocky start,” the first-person narrator of this 600-page epic is Sira Quiroga, a young seamstress from Madrid with a modest background.  Unfortunately, she makes a terrible initial impression.  Virtually the first thing we learn about her is that she is an inconstant woman.  She behaves deplorably towards a man she’s supposed to love, and then runs off to Morocco with a man slicker than Teflon.  On many, many levels, her behavior is unforgivably stupid.  Truthfully, I wanted to slap her.  (Note to Authors:  Having your protagonist repent and/or wise-up eventually does not justify making us hate her in the beginning.)  And this whole opening drama takes up about the first hundred pages of the novel.

Which leads us to issue number two…  God, I felt like it took forever for this story to really get going!  No way did this novel need to be over 600 hundred pages long.  I would have written a far more positive review had it been condensed by a good 200 pages.  The overly drawn out introduction (that made me sort of hate the heroine) could have been condensed so that we could get to the meat of this story so much sooner.  As it is, the plot described in the jacket copy of this novel doesn’t even come into play until well past the half-way point of the novel. 

And that plot involves Sira working on behalf of the British Resistance in the early days of WWII.  But, given that that doesn’t even get broached until page 355 of my galley, there’s a whole lot that goes on before the excitement kicks in.  And I don’t mean to imply that it’s all bad or boring.  I think that Ms. Dueñas is going for a picaresque quality to Sira’s story, with a series of episodic adventures.  Some parts were more successful than others for me, but stuff does happen.  I wouldn’t call it fast-paced.  What I liked much, much more than the drawn out plot were the many supporting characters that bring life and interest to the story.  They’re an excellent and entertaining supporting cast.

And as the novel goes on, the pace does pick up, the main plot kicks in, and from there on out it’s a different book.  There is romance, excitement, suspense—all the things I would have enjoyed seeing more of in the first half of the novel.  So, The Time In Between ends on a high note.  Heck, the door is even open for a sequel.  By the end, Sira is a far more appealing protagonist.  The prose throughout the novel is acceptable, but not what I’d consider a selling point.  The North African setting of much of the tale, however, is unusual and adds its own level of interest.

I would recommend this debut to readers who are fans of long novels, and who are willing to have a little patience.  I would also recommend it to fans of these types of stories—of the time, the place, the war.  If the flaws I described sound like deal-breakers, you’re probably better off skipping The Time In Between.

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