Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Vanishing by Wendy Webb

Spoiler-free summary:
Juila Bishop’s life has fallen apart: Her husband, a sociopath who committed fraud, has killed himself, her parents are dead, her friends have abandoned her, and she can’t shake the paparazzi who want a glimpse of what she’s become. It is in this dark period of her life that Adrian Sinclair, son of world-famous horror novelist Amaris Sinclair, approaches Julia with an interesting preposition - He can make her bleak, embarrassing past disappear. All she needs to do is follow him to the isolated Havenwood estate and keep his aging mother company. Julia accepts, hoping to leave her dark past behind, only to find that, perhaps, there is a greater darkness in store for her within the walls of the stately mansion.

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Reading this novel in the winter was a fantastic experience. Wendy Webb’s descriptions of the snowfall and wilderness surrounding Havenwood were beautiful and encouraged me to appreciate the cold, horrible weather I have been trying so hard to ignore. This is definitely the right time of the year to read this book.

I loved that so much of this novel concerned the literary. Amaris Sinclair, the matriarch of the house, is an eccentric horror writer. Julia, our protagonist, is a writer herself and is drawn to the sprawling library of Havenwood. (Speaking of which – that library sounds incredible!). There is just something satisfying about reading a novel in the wintertime about a novelist in the wintertime. Did that sentence make sense? I don’t know.

The Vanishing is billed as horror, but it never managed to frighten or surprise me. I thought that Julia was too slow in realizing what was going on around her and didn’t ask enough questions. When she was asking questions, they felt like the wrong ones. It was frustrating and I felt that a lot of Julia’s inability to understand what was going on around her was a ploy for the author to drag out the suspense for a few more pages. I could tell where this was going, so why couldn’t she!? I was unable to accept her reasoning and this made the premise unbelievable, and therefore, unscary. I was so bored with the characters that I hoped something horrible would happen to them and they could go away.

There also seem to be a lot of recycled phrases and dialog in this book. How many times is someone going to give Julia a look so tender that she almost bursts into tears? (At least three). How many times can Amaris say “darling” or “dear?” (I can’t even count).

In the Acknowledgements, Wendy Webb says, “I’m not trying to define a generation, right any great wrongs, or change the way you think about the world or your place in it. I just want to craft a good story that will delight you, entertain you, grab you and not let go…” I think that this is an excellent representation of The Vanishing. It’s fun and fast, a nice holiday read, but it lacks the depth of a novel with more staying power.

The potential for a deeper, perspective-shifting novel is there – the ideas of the past repeating itself and people being connected in ways deeper than physicality are thought-provoking and terrifying on their own – but, the narration is casual and the characters are shallow.

Buy The Vanishing January 21st, 2014 in paperback or ebook format from Amazon.

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