I’ve read a lot of these dimension-hopping novels, so I sort of surprised myself when I picked up Elsewhere. The plot is familiar, and so are the characters; in many ways it’s a good book to pick up when you don’t want to work your brain too hard.
Jeffy lives a life of quiet contentment with his precocious eleven-year -old daughter, Amity. Their near-idyllic life is torn apart when a vagrant Jeffy’s befriended turns out to be a renowned quantum physicist, who gives Jeffy the Key To Everything: a device that transports “passengers” to alternate realities.
Okay, first off, it’s a good book: engaging, well-written, with a light lyrical style which may have put it in the YA category if not for the over-the-top brutality of the main antagonist.
They (whoever ‘they’ are) often say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, as it turns out, you can. The cover for The Chosen and the Beautiful promises a story of magic, glamour and decadence set between between the two great wars … and the book pretty much delivers.
Meet the sometimes-heroine of our story, Jordan Baker: taken from Vietnam as a child and raised by the old-money Baker clan as something of a socialite (that seems to be her actual job).
Jordan enjoys wealth, a wide circle of friends of both sexes whom she dances, drinks and sleeps with as the mood takes her. She plays golf (no wait, maybe that’s her actual job …) and occasionally dabbles in magic: Jordan has the ability to bring paper cuttings to like. She’s not very good at it – she crosses paths with other Vietnamese who’re a lot better at it. Still, she uses her ability to dig herself and her sometimes friend/sometimes lover Daisy out of situations that are not necessarily dangerous, but could have made their social standing somewhat precarious.
The turning point in Jordan’s story happens when she is sucked into the orbit of Jay Gatsby (yes, that Jay Gatsby) as he attempts to lure Daisy away from her dick of a husband, Tom …
I think this one definitely falls under the “rare treat” category: elegantly written in a light, poetic style that isn’t too overbearing, painstakingly researched, and carrying a sense of suspense throughout the piece that’s cleverly sustained even during the quieter moments. It’s one of those rare literary novels you’ll blast through in a couple of days, but even so, the author manages to whisk us around a good number of the social, environmental and race issues affecting the Caribbean.
And on top of this, we have the sudden appearance of an ancient mermaid who brings beauty and her curse to Black Conch.
The characters are well-drawn and believable, even the mermaid, who has to deal with the practical aspects of suddenly finding herself trapped in land (rediscovering her legs for a start). What I liked about the book is that it’s a classic journey piece: everyone starts somewhere, everyone has to grow, and everyone discovers a truth – whether they want to or not.
The only real problem I had was that the story ended rather abruptly, with one or two threads left dangling. I get that the outcomes had been explained along the way through songs, poetry and journal entries, but I still felt that the book sort of just stopped.
But since a good book is more than just the end, I can’t say it ruined my enjoyment – and this is one hell of a good book.