The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan
|The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: Small town Vermont is the setting for this interesting, mostly in a good way, and highly readable story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: November 2012|
The elderly Mary McAllister is a recluse, and most of the residents of Mill River know very little about her other than that she lives alone in the grand marble house overlooking the town, never venturing out. Father O’Brien, the local priest, is the exception, having known Mary since she was young and officiated at her wedding. Only he knows her secrets and the motives behind why she stays tucked away from prying eyes. As the story moves from her early marriage to the present day, he is her constant companion and link to the outside world.
This is the story of Mary and Father O’Brien, but it’s also the story of different people in this Vermont town. Of the local police force, the officers and their families. Of another local woman who is an outsider, trying to fit in. Of a young school teacher, new in town, who has secrets of her own. All great ingredients for a story with some mystery, but this tale is surprisingly suspense-less because so many of the secrets are given away early on.
Let’s start with the praise, though, because for some reason I could not put this book down. The style of writing was exactly what I like, a modern American voice in the vein of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain. The story stays fresh and engaging by switching at crucial stages between different points in time, and different points of view and it captivated me throughout. It wasn’t just the vague mystery to be uncovered that intrigued me, but more the window into the life of this small town and its residents. This is a book with an ensemble cast rather than a few lead roles, because although it starts off as Mary’s story, a lot of the further developments in no way involve her, or the priest, and other people get their moment in the spotlight. At first this appealed to me, but after I thought about it more things started to change.
My real concern about this book is that at times it reads like a series of facts or unrelated incidents, rather than a well rounded story. There are many side arcs that appear important to the story, such as Kyle and Claudia’s relationship, and Leroy’s behaviour, but don’t come together even at the end. It’s almost as if Mary wrote the story herself, sitting in the mansion and looking down on the activities of the town, simply writing what she saw. These things have no bearing on Mary’s past or her present, but the way they were interwoven with the story I expected a sudden moment of clarity towards the end, a crescendo where they all came together. Daisy was a confusing character and she at least generates some closure towards the end, but it’s not enough to make you forget about the others. I think perhaps the issue was that the book was set up to make you think the focus was on Mary in the first few chapters, so you naturally assumed everything would come back together in the end, and yet a lot of points were almost random observations rather than useful contributions to the story.
I also though the blurb on the back, and indeed the tagline on the front bore little resemblance to the pages between the covers, almost as if the writer of those had not read the book. The insinuation that Claudia is interested in Mary, for example, is a wild over-exaggeration, for the two never meet and nor does Claudia talk or wonder about her for any prolonged period. The emphasis seems in the wrong place, and again sets the reader up for a different story, leading to expectations and confusion. It’s frustrating because this was a really good story…just not the story the blurb made it out to be.
I really don’t want to be too harsh on the book, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In a way the different unrelated elements were what kept me reading, as I expected things to fall into place if I ploughed through just a few more pages. As you’ll now know, they don’t all slot neatly into place as I’d anticipated, but that wasn’t apparent to me until the very end so for the first 300 or so pages I was raving about it to anyone who would listen.
Ultimately it depends on what you’re looking for in a book. Critically I’m not sure this one can hold its own, but for readers it is, as is so often the case, a different story. I enjoyed this book. I identified with the characters, cared about what happened to them, and quite fancied moving to Mill River (and not just for the baked goods). It’s a bit overly sweet in places but then this is small town America. It’s almost to be expected. Looking back it wasn’t perfect, but for the way I felt when reading it, it’s getting a full 5 stars because I don't think it's fair to penalise it. One to enjoy rather than think too closely about, for sure, but enjoy it you will.
Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.
If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Night Road by Kristin Hannah.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.