Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge

Title: The White Witch
Author: Elizabeth Goudge
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hodder & Stroughton
Published: 1977
Pages: 414

Rating: 2 out of 10

For so many pages, this book is quite empty. I will try to list a plot here, but truly, there wasn't one. This is the best that I could come up with:

It is 1642 England, and the English Civil War is flaring up. Back at their peaceful estate, the affluent Haslewood family does their best to get through the times.

The White Witch was a very bland, tedious novel that I found it quite a chore to finish. Fortunately, the writing isn't all that difficult, so I just decided to sit down one night with a good supply of tea (the best thing about reading this one) and be done with it.

I couldn't believe how long the author let the plot go motionless. The first 200 pages are filled with descriptions of people going from here to there, and it all just seemed so pointless. It wasn't as if anything exciting or remotely interesting happened - ever.
Not that I need every book I read to be a page-turner, but this one was just nothing. I wondered to myself how an author could possibly think that she had put enough into this book and get it published. If this had been more of a character-driven book, with good characterizations and strong writing, I would have forgiven the lack of events in a moment. But even the main characters fall flat and appear empty of thoughts and feelings. Many of the reviews on the cover listed this as "Goudge's best" or, "her peak," making me wonder if they were either paid for or quoted massively out of context.

The one thing that does happen, around page 200, is that we get to see a battle of the war, with Charles II as a character.
I thought that perhaps this marked the beginning of the action (finally) but was wrong.
After the battle, things return to the Haslewoods, and everything goes on just as tediously as it had before until the very last page.

I thought that it was funny how for so long, all of the characters keep saying that they are "fighting" the war, and how the war is looming over them, but in actuality, their hollow words are as much as the war ever touches them. There appears to be no war at all, no matter how much they keep telling us that it is affecting them so deeply.

Other things I found annoying...
- Froniga references "the middle ages." I am pretty sure that no one called them that until much later than 1642.
- Yoben, our heroine's Romany love interest, annoyed me. I don't mind a bit of romance, and I love Gypsy stories, but this man would have been better edited out. Like everything else, he is pointless to the story. The fact that he and Froniga have been in love for ten years, but have never spoken of it or done anything, seemed a bit of a stretch.
- There were too many characters. Even the main characters were under developed, so the last thing this book needed was more. But, for example, Yoben has an adopted mother, a sister, and his mother has three children. Do we really need all of these extra and irrelevant characters?
- This thing about unicorns. Everyone kept emphasizing it and it got old, plus (like everything else) it was pointless.
- Everyone measures their love for everyone! Every single character is always giving us a list of who they love most, and second most, and how they love Jenny just a bit more than Will, or Froniga second to Margaret, or Froniga first, and so on. What??
- There are a few chapters devoted to two completely random characters (a gypsy and a servant) who haven't come up in the story before except to be mentioned passingly. For some reason, Goudge draws up a little story for them, almost like a bad short story smacked down in the middle of a novel, about how the Gypsy fools the servant woman out of her money (and in a way that really didn't make any sense, by the way). I know that I have already said everything about this book was pointless, but this brazen veering away from the vague plot line was just ridiculous.

Every plot element in this book is watered down, subdued, and drawn out into boredom. Certainly not a book I would recommend.