Ordinary Hazards by Anna Bruno
|Ordinary Hazards by Anna Bruno
|Category: General Fiction
|Reviewer: Stephen Leach
|Summary: Too much telling and not nearly enough showing in this slow-moving reflection on guilt and grief.
|Date: August 2020
|Publisher: Scribner UK
|External links: Author's website
Some books either grab you or bore you. And this was one that I wanted so badly to like but unfortunately, I just wasn't hooked.
Told over the course of one night, Ordinary Hazards is more like an extended series of musings rather than a complete story. Sat alone in her local bar, Emma reflects on her life and the tragic events leading to her divorce. Over the course of the novel a succession of characters are introduced via a lengthy interlude to flesh out their backstories. This rapidly became formulaic and the fact that few of them impact the story meaningfully meant that I became less and less interested in finding out about them. Despite some great lines and intense description, I couldn't get into it: there's too much telling and not enough showing.
I could enjoy a slow-burner if I had some idea where it was all going. But fifty pages in, I wasn't sure what the plot was. Fifty more pages, I felt like I was just starting to know. I was interested in Emma's relationship with Lucas, and what made them fall apart – but the story takes too long to get there, jumping from past to present constantly, and the eventual reveal feels like a rush of information.
What really sealed the deal, though, is that Emma isn't that engaging a character. She was difficult to like, I felt like I'd read what makes her different many times before (she likes to drink whiskey!), and nothing about her clued me in as to why I should care about her disintegrated relationship. Perhaps someone out there identified strongly with her, but I certainly didn't.
If you like purely character driven novels without much in the way of plot, then this might be the book for you. But it wasn't for me.
A slow-burner I can recommend is Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry.
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