The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams
|The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Milli Pithie|
|Summary: A good story told with average ability.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: November 2009|
|Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton|
The Book of the Alchemist is a story within a story. It opens in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. Pinzon, a Spanish politician who resigns for moral reasons, is taken hostage by a group of Republican soldiers, along with his young Grandson. A group of villagers are also taken captive and locked in a cathedral as part of the soldiers' desperate plan to protect themselves from the Fascist forces that are hunting them. A cavernous mosque built inside the mountain under the cathedral's crypt is discovered, and in it, a book. As Pinzon reads the book, another story unfolds, set in the eleventh century. This is the story of Samuel the Jew.
It's a story which seems to tick all the boxes; love, friendship, mystery, war, history and tragedy. It doesn't sound groundbreaking but it certainly sounds like jolly good fun. And, to a certain extent, it is an enjoyable read. When you get past the fragmented beginning which seems to skip past a series of important events and at times threatens to become a history lesson, you reach the part of interest. It kicks off with a cold blooded shooting or two to get you hooked and then a group of hostages are herded into a cathedral and things start to look promising. It is a good story, touching and tragic in parts, and no doubt a lot of people will enjoy it, yet something never quite sits right.
Firstly, the speech never feels natural, and as a result, the characters feel contrived and even irritating. Secondly, the narrative voice is often too authoritarian, 'telling' us rather than 'showing' us. I like to be left to decide what I think of a character, not be told who is noble, who is selfish, who is a good leader and who is cruel.
Unfortunately, it just doesn't do itself justice. The good parts are hindered by stiff speech or hurried through, and it takes a long time for sympathy to develop towards the characters, despite their terrible situations. Nevertheless, if you love a good story but aren't so bothered about writing style, then you will probably really enjoy this book. Personally, I wouldn't buy it for its recommended retail price, although you get your money's worth in length. I also suggest briefly researching the Spanish Civil war before reading this.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If you like this you will love The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
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