Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Victoria Clayton - Clouds Among the Stars

The Byng family, theatrical down to the youngest, 12 year-old Cordelia, are stunned out of even their normal self-involvement by the news that their father, the celebrated Shakespearean actor, has apparently killed his rival on stage during the last rehearsals for the new production of King Lear. Waldo Byng is arrested for murder and held in police custody : the press camp outside the house, detectives attempt to interview the family and friends, and Clarissa Byng abandons the entire scene by fleeing with her longtime companion.
It is left to the rest of the family to try to find a way through this disaster and above all to earn some money as the play is naturally cancelled. The nine months from arrest to the final trial are a wonderful learning curve about the real world for all of them, in particular for Harriet, considered the most 'sensible' of the remarkable family.

Comment: When I fist noticed this book it was its translation edition in Portuguese. The blurb seemed interesting and I immediately imagined a sort of contemporary saga where that family would have to deal with interesting conflicts in particular Harriet, the apparent protagonist. I decided I had to own this book. However at the time I wasn't yet in the brave new world of Internet shopping so I only saw this book at bookstores and being published by a certain publisher, the price was quit expensive. Three years ago I saw it at the capital's yearly book fair with a huge discount and I thought what a great opportunity it was! I purchased it right away but as it happens with most books, it has been languishing in the book pile since then, This month I picked and decided it was time.

This is the story of the Byng family. All the members of the family have affinity to the theater except Harriet. The book is a description of everyone's lives after the father is arrested for a murder which he didn't commit. Besides Harriet's parents there are her brother and three sisters, plus family friends. The cast of characters is quite big and they all play some sort of role in this story. We can say the action of this book is how the family deals with some troubles and how they go on with their lives after the father's arrest and the financial issues in their house.

Well, after all the time hoping for this book and the three years since I bought it didn't work out in a fine story. I thought this to be sometimes annoying, extremely exaggerated and very confusing.
The story does follow many characters in their hardships and common lives as a family and as individuals but despite knowing this was meant to be a satiric comedy, I also expected something more seriously done. It wasn't. The story felt like a circus and not a theater play, no matter how much the characters would act the part. The storytelling was pretty basic but there wasn't much to make me interested in the story, I was more focused on the pages missing to end it. It had some good scene here and there and I did laugh two or three times over some silly thing or sentence. But overall, it wasn't what I expected and what was delivered didn't seem suitable either.

This being called a comedy, amusing and silly things are to be expected, but I thought there was no need to exaggerate everything. The characters didn't seem to have any kind of responsible behavior and those who did seemed to act just as a contrast to the others. Nothing they did was totally believable or remotely credible. It appeared anything related to professional or savvy behavior was an alien concept. Only Harriet seemed to have some sort of responsibility, but even her would act quite silly at times. But as the story was told from her point of view, her actions didn't seem to be as annoying.
Some of the other characters also had some redeemable qualities but most times I was too annoyed at all that I couldn't really enjoy their better side.
A thing that was more interesting was how sometimes some more thoughtful dialogs would show up. People would discuss some silly thing but what they said wasn't always a joke. I liked some of those words and thoughts and was sorry there weren't more of them.

There's romance too but I found them all (quite a few) to lack something vital to be more believable or solid. The overall feeling I got was that this was all exaggerated without having to, at least not all the way.

I ended up this boo quite relieved because I was a bit disappointed. Apparently the author is recognized by her talent of writing this types of novels, British chick lit I guess, but I wasn't impressed at all. I thin, her niche notwithstanding, she could have given the same comedy impression without being exaggerated in this. I thought the story was too silly, the characters and the conversations and the attitudes and the actions, everything was exaggerated and almost stupid.
I thin a bit more seriousness wouldn't harm the inner feel of the plot or the purpose. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this that much.
Grade: 3/10

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