The Embers by Hyatt Bass, USA, 2009

This was a frightfully monotonous book to read: it was how I would imagine it would feel if one was to wade through treacle. It took me ages to get through it, simply because I could only manage a few pages at a time, and if it had not been the Book Club book of the month I would have given up after the first few pages. More than several times I wondered what the point of it all was, and if that point was the unravelling and then the reassembling of a family struck by tragedy then, for me at least, the point was blunt and of no consequence.  
A son dies in circumstances that, from the very first page, are hinted at as being mysterious, and although the author would like us to believe that it was this tragedy that sent the family into free-fall it is very obvious that the family was unravelling well before there is any sign of tragedy on the horizon – the father, Joe, with his extra-marital fling; the mother, Laura, constantly balancing her own innate fears with a need to control everyone around her; and Emily, who for whatever reason, has never grown up. Looking beyond the book's last page, I would assume that the surviving members all continue very much the same as they always had, each with his or her own very self-centred agenda. Consequently, all one has at the end of the book is that question about the point of it all.

The idea of the impact of tragedy on a close group of people is not at all new, and it had probably worked had it been handled differently and had there been some kind of multi-levelled management of both the plot and the characters themselves. Unfortunately, all the characters are either flat, unbelievable or sketchily drawn, and none of them are even vaguely likeable. In a book like this, the reader has to be able to form some kind of a bond with at least one of the characters, but this did not happen for me.

Apart from the dysfunctional group of unlikeable characters, the actual situations holding the story together are scattered, disconnected, uninteresting, and, at times, completely bizarre. The over-use of conversation does not work for me and simply adds to the 'treacle-effect'. In the book's defence, I will admit, that there are occasionally very faint glimmers of ideas that are trying to break through, but they fade before they are strong enough to impact on the book as a whole. A disappointing experience and not one that I would recommend to others. 
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