West of Here by Jonathan Evison
|West of Here by Jonathan Evison|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Despite occasional flashes of impressive writing, at nearly 500 pages and with too many quick jumps between time periods, this is an epic which doesn't really reach its potential.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 496||Date: January 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
The town of Port Bonita, located on the Pacific coast of Washington State, is the setting – and almost a character itself, such is its importance – of Jonathan Evison’s newest novel. In a massively ambitious narrative, we start at the Elwha River Dam in 2006, before just two pages later being transported back into the 1880’s, to see the town’s founding. A hundred pages or so later, we’re brought back to the 21st century, then returned to the 19th, and the cuts between scenes get faster and more furious as we seem to flip forwards and backwards in time without giving us much time to catch our breath. By 2006, the Dam is about to be destroyed, and we see the effect its construction has had on the local community and how the descendants of the original characters have turned out.
There are some interesting characters in this novel – in the 21st century, Franklin Bell, the parole officer, would be my favourite, if only for his perfect use of the lyrics to Don Henley’s wonderful Boys of Summer at just the appropriate moment, while in the 19th century the majority are given at least a little depth. However, if anything, there’s just too many to keep track of properly, even in a book of this length, and that’s one of the things which stopped me fully engaging with the story.
I wanted to love West of Here as I really enjoy this type of epic fiction at its best. I can certainly appreciate the amount of work which Evison must have put into it, and I do feel there are some superb ideas and a couple of really impressive passages here – particularly in the early part of the book, with the longest part spent in the 19th century giving readers a bit more time to settle down than the later chapters ever do. Overall, though, I’m rather unconvinced. The changing of time periods becomes more of an irritation than anything else, especially when we get to the point at which it seems to be happening every 4 or 5 pages, while the plot seemed a little on the thin side considering the book’s massive length. Definitely not without its merits, but a difficult one for me to really recommend, I’m afraid.
The ultimate recent epic, for me, is the Danish seafaring saga, We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen.
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You can read more book reviews or buy West of Here by Jonathan Evison at Amazon.com.
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