Top positive review
Great for the First Half, but Then...
Reviewed in the United States on October 1, 2015
Author Alice Hoffman once again succeeds (but only partially) with her lyrical prose, giving us a vivid description of the island of St. Thomas, her pen painting it in water-colored impressionist shapes and hues. Settings are life-like, yet surreal. The reading experience is of stepping into a painting, much like Alice through the looking glass.
While plot typically is driven with events, they become minor points. What clearly drives this story is its protagonist, Rachel. Rachel, as a child, vexed her own mother so, that she damned her with the ages-old curse, of someday being tormented by a child like herself. She was a dutiful daughter--to a point--but clearly, lived her life as she saw fit, defying the tenets of her society.
Hoffman's storytelling excelled for about the first half of the book. Life on the island, its native inhabitants (slaves and freed men), and the European immigrants were fascinating. Descriptions of people, dwellings, foods, tropical plants, politics, clothing, etiquette, customs, medicinal herbs, and travel all brought the reader into this story of historical fiction. We saw life through Rachel's eyes. Then, without warning, the perspective changed. This was no longer Rachel's story. Hoffman brushed her aside to bring us (one assumes) the real reason she wrote her book; namely to introduce to us Jacobo Camille Pissaro, the father of Impressionism--one of her sons. It left me feeling adrift, as if I were abandoned as the solitary inhabitant of an island, watching the ship on which I was traveling, sailing off without me.
Until this moment, this was a five-star book. Then, Rachel's other children were neatly stored away, like so much memorabilia in trunks never opened. As Camille's presence grew, they retreated to ghostly insignificance. Hoffman lost me here. If her intention was to create the background story of Camille's mother, it would have been better done in the form of flashbacks, leaving him as the protagonist. It's not that her writing style and abilities changed, it's that the focus did, and I didn't like it. That dropped my rating to three stars.
If you have enjoyed reading Hoffman's other stories (such as The Dovekeepers), you will like her thorough research, style and adroit storytelling in The Marriage of Opposites. Just be aware of the story's sudden metamorphosis into a completely different tale. Hence, a rating of four stars.