Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Balcony

Title:  The Balcony
Author:  Jane Delury
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2018. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0316554677 / 978-0316554671

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In June of 1992, I left Boston for France with everything in front of me."

Favorite Quote:  "Yet, I'm sure you know about the meanings one makes when first in love. Coincidences becomes destiny."

The Balcony belongs to the manor house of an estate in a small village outside of Paris, France. In its centuries of existence, the balcony and the house sees numerous families who call the estate a home. Some occupy the manor house itself, and some live in the nearby servants' cottage. The house bears witness to all their lives and to the history that touches these lives through the years.

This book is somewhere between a collection of stories and a novel. I feel that there are connections that exist between the characters and the stories. In fact, I know there are. The descriptions points to "cross-generation connections and troubled legacies." However, I cannot quite capture those relationships, but it is frustrating to expect to be able to. For that, the book contains too many stories and too many characters. After a while, I stop trying, but the feeling of having missed something remains.

Another factor that makes the connections challenging is that the book is not linear. It is not chronological but rather wanders back and forth through history. The book promises a look "over the course of several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day." The book may be that, but unfortunately not in a way that allows that course of history to be followed. I almost wanted to rearrange the book and the read the book chronologically to see if more of the themes emerged. Realistically, I never vested enough in the book to actually do that.

The book anchors the stories to not a time but a place. The stories all "haunt the same spaces, so that the rose garden, the forest point, and the balcony off the manor's third floor bedroom" are the focal points of the book. Oddly, for a book so centered on a physical space, I walk away without a real sense of what this estate looks like. Through the words, I cannot conjure up an image. The focal point of the estate is at odds with the completely character focus of the stories.

The character focus of the stories is also implied in the synopsis which promises "a fascinating cast of characters ... rich and poor, young and old, powerful and persecuted." Unfortunately, for me, the characters do not become one very important thing. They are not memorable. Not one stands outs. The description promises a narrative that weaves "a gorgeous tapestry of relationships" and "that burrows deep into individual lives." Again, perhaps, it is the lack of chronology, but for me, the tapestry and the depth do not emerge. I am, however, left with an image of darkness and sadness surrounding the house.

The point of description that does hold true is that of "fleeting moments across the frame of the twentieth centuries." I like the premise of history through a home, but I hoped it would convey that feeling of history. Unfortunately, fleeting moments do not allows for connections to form and ultimately, for me, result in an unsatisfying reading experience and leave me knowing that there was something I missed.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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