I had heard quite a bit about this book and was tempted by the front cover which I like very much indeed. The buzz about it sees comparisons being made to “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” (which I loved) and “Night Circus” (which I didn’t). It has elements of Susanna’s Clarke’s superb work in its other-worldliness and hints of magic existing alongside the real world. It has elements of “Night Circus” in that I didn’t always know (or care) what was going on. Set mainly in a time I put around 1960 (the only reference is some sixty years after the Boer Wars) in a fading mansion house. This is run by a butler, Eustace, who keeps an eye on the strange Mr Crowe, his singer girlfriend and Clara, the mute girl of indeterminate age who lives what can best be described as an elemental existence and has developing powers which she is trying out on swans. Eustace has to cover up a killing at the property starting off a chain of events which leads to, well, I’m not sure where actually.
Two strong characters, Eustace and Clara, dominate proceedings and this debut novel is written with a real flair for language. I’m not totally convinced, however, by this balance of fantasy and literary fiction. The first third builds up beautifully but with too many unanswered questions I felt it ultimately a bit of a let-down. I think to work well this kind of book needs real richness and depth which “Jonathan Strange..” has but I didn’t feel that O’Donnell quite pulled this off. Without that there is a danger of things becoming whimsical which I doubt was the author’s intention. I’ve looked at other reviews of this book and it does seem to be falling into the “love it or hate it” category but, unfortunately, I do neither. Over at Nudge Books it has already been Book Geek Book Of The Month. Arzu Tahsin, the Deputy Publishing Editor at W&N thinks they are on to a real winner and says of the book;
“The Maker of Swans, so delicately wrought exquisitely fulfils our yearning for a truly immersive experience. Magic is all around us and sometimes someone comes along who brings it alive in ways we can only guess at. You will never forget Clara.”
I wish I was totally immersed but there was something within the book that held me back and I hate to say it but although Clara was a fascinating idea for a character there was not enough for her to do within the plot to stay in my mind. Another book I read recently which attempted to do something similar with a blend of fantasy and thriller was “Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence Of Ghosts” by A K Benedict and her central character, the blindfolded Maria, has certainly stuck in my mind.
The Maker Of Swans was published in February 2016 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.