Friday, January 27, 2017

Wild Swans, by Jessica Spotswood

Milbourn women have always been both extraordinary and tragic.  Ivy's ancestors are singers, poets, and painters, and each of them suffered tragedy.  Ivy Milbourn has certainly suffered tragedy (her mother abandoned her when she was two), but she's never found anything she was extraordinary at (much to her grandfather's regret). And this summer she wants to just take it easy and enjoy herself, rather than yet again try to do something that will impress her grandfather.

But Ivy's plans for a quiet summer are waylaid by the sudden reappearance of her mother, with two previously-unknown daughters (Ivy's half-sisters) in tow.  The reunion is rocky and unearths painful truths about the family that have been hidden and kept out of the light.  And into the mix, Ivy finds herself negotiating her first real boyfriend and the tensions it brings between her and her best friend.

A decent novel about an unhappy family that is unhappy in its own special way.  In many ways, the novel seemed overly busy to me (and apparently in earlier drafts, it was even busier!).  The romance (and its accompanying jealous thread) has tremendous promise but is ultimately inconsequential to a story that is largely about ambition and parents living through (and destroying) their children.  And the family itself has so many interesting aspects that never get properly developed (who brings in a grandmother's journals without discussing their content in greater depth? Or discusses a family's history of depression without developing it into the story?).  The characters are well-depicted and the story flows easily, but there are so many good ideas that were developed here and never quite finished.

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