Jean McNeil is one of those authors that can bring clarity to the human experience in a single, illuminating sentence.
She is also exceptionally good at place in her books, which I first experienced when I read Ice Diaries last year, about her experience in the Antarctic. It was a slower book to get through, but the writing was so elegant and her absolutely beautiful twists of phrase brought life into the setting. If you're going to send a writer to Antarctica, you definitely want to send one who is good at writing place, and Jean McNeil definitely is.
Because I enjoyed Ice Diaries, I looked forward to digging into her newest novel, The Dhow House (which I acquired through ECW Press's Shelf Monkey program), which as you can tell already from the title, also centres around a place.
If you like action-packed stories full of plot twists and turns, then this is definitely not the book for you. The plot is very straightforward, takes a long time to get to anywhere that interesting, and even when it does the conflict quickly dissipates and the plot slows once again.
However, the plot really isn't the point of this book. It's really the writing, the experience of the place, and the reflections of the characters in that place. Her writing creates a certain atmosphere, which I'm sure she does very intentionally. Throughout the first half of the book, through the slowness and the deep, rich description I felt wary and slightly creeped out, and couldn't really put my finger on how exactly she was creating this effect. There is definitely a lot more going on in this book than at the surface, and you really have to pay attention for those moments where she drops a particularly striking sentence that makes you stop and go, Whoa.
I have a deep appreciation for writers like Jean McNeil who so obviously love the work of stringing together words to evoke deep meanings, which not all writers have talent for. While the plot plodded along sleepily, the place and characters were very much alive.
The Dhow House comes out in Canada April 11. There is also a Goodreads giveaway that ends on March 31 if you'd like to enter to get an ARC!
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