Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: The Witch of Napoli

The Witch of NapoliThe Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley.]

There was a lot that bothered me about this book. I didn't enjoy the POV the author chose. Tomaso came across callous, unfeeling, and more like a pulp fiction private eye character than a newspaper photographer/reporter recalling events from 1899. The book is told from his POV, 20 years after the events he recounts, so he's speaking from somewhere around 1919. He was 16 at the start of 1899, so he's only ~36 by the end of the book. He sounds like a mid-40s American private eye lounging in his office waiting for a pretty dame to come to him with her problems. It was grating.

Throughout the book, Tomaso offers up articles from various papers that tell part of the story of what was happening. But in the first few chapters, he introduces them by saying "Here, I'll read it to you." He also periodically addresses the reader throughout the book, which I found irritating. I understand that the perspective of the novel was intended to be a sort of conversation between Tomaso and the reader, but it was not effective.

There was also quite a bit of juxtaposition of crass words like "piss" and "shit," appearing in the same sentence as polite terms such as "water closet." I think one of the sentences went something like, "I needed to take a piss, so I went in search of the water closet." I'm paraphrasing, obviously, but that's how a lot of this book went. I felt it was awkward.

There was also frequent reference in the first half of the book to how Tomaso used to be poor but now he's rich and edits a newspaper. A reference or two would not have been amiss, but seeing it throughout a large portion of the book felt repetitive and overdone.

Some of the pacing was also awkward. For example, Nigel Huxley is mentioned in the last sentence of Chapter 19. Chapter 20 begins with a two-paragraph vague explanation, and then we don't see his name until the end of Chapter 20, nearly 3% later (that was a lot of pages, if you're wondering). Why bring him up at the end of Chapter 19 if you weren't going to actually talk about him for another ~30 (Kindle) pages? I spent the entire chapter confused, wondering what the big deal was. At first I thought he was actually on the train with them, which confused me even more.

Lastly, my frustration with Tomaso as a character was partly founded on the fact that he declared several times he was in love with Alessandra, but then didn't act like it at all. He spent a lot of time berating her, a little time comforting her, but most of his time acting like a selfish brat who only went along on the tour so that he could see the sights. His devotion to her was not nearly as deep as I would have expected considering how adamant he was that he loved and supported her.

For all the reasons above and some I did not feel like discussing, I did not particularly enjoy reading this book, and would not recommend it to my friends, although it appears I am in the minority. I spent a lot of time being bored with the writing and the content, and not enough being engaged. I didn't care for any of the characters, not even Alessandra. I pitied her, mostly. But that was about it.

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