The Paper Palace – book review

The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller

This felt like an over-crafted book from the start. We get the climax scene (haha, literally) and then, in dribs-and-drabs, the day that builds up to it and the day that follows, jabbed through with a long (and perhaps irrelevant?) history of the protagonist, her mother, her grandmother, her father – so many back-story characters slowing down the read. I just wanted to skip over them and get back to the main plot.

Which is about a woman married to a gorgeous man with three lovely kids–the entire family smart and agreeable– and a soul mate she has loved since they were kids, who is now a firm family friend. Suddenly (after many, many years and a redemption, of sorts) both our protagonist and her childhood love decide tonight’s the night he gets to take her pushed up against the shed outside the beach house while the family are inside. Not really a spoiler – this is the starting climax, which I think would have much more intensity if it had come at the end when we knew them both and what was at stake.

So your classic love-triangle, not too complicated, you’d think. The husband she kisses and says she loves, and the hot old flame of irresistible love.

There is childhood abuse. This is a theme that seems to have become a g0-to for a story’s emotional punch and I cringe slightly at its overuse. I think this is for the same reason I cringe at so many war stories that are just stories about people, but set against the background of war so the author can throw in the odd atrocity to keep the pulse racing. It’s a pick and mix of packaged, ready-made conflict. As a reader, I don’t want to be played like this. Topics like war and child abuse (and rape, slavery, torture etc) are always hideous, and if an author is going to write an entertaining story about such a topic they need to have bloody good reason. Personally, I like authors to work a little harder to give a story impact.

Yes, I enjoyed the read, it was catchy and had a cool, moody atmosphere, but I remained frustrated at having the end at the start and when I got to the end it seemed like probably where the story should have begun. There is no gratifying twist at the resolution to make our protagonist’s decision feel the right one. We’re left wondering what, in God’s name, will happen now?

She’ll probably write a sequel, and I’ll probably read it. I hope she just sits down and writes it without too much crafting. Cowley Heller can tell a good yarn and a good yarn can be simple.

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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