First off, let me say that I didn’t much like the book and certainly not the main character. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a good read, this is.
The mix of not quite literary, not quite paranormal and at times over romantic wasn’t my cup of tea. That may be in part because I am a male reader. I hasten to add that I found no hardship in reading every word, and in piecing together every loopback in the chronological progress. I enjoyed the long prose, the well worked descriptions, the first person narrative and the deep and convoluted analysis of main character as writer. A lot of the book reads like classic memoir. I like the way Bell so well conveyed the characters confusions through the slow construction of the plot, almost like building a house jumping between bricklaying on different floors in total defiance of gravity.
Those that are expecting a classic paranormal read will be disappointed, because the abnormal never really rises far beyond what might be interpreted as purely machinations of an intoxicated mind, often the toxin being romance itself.
Those that like modern crisp plot in a sharp journalistic Hemingwayesk style will be annoyed. This is a book for those that enjoy deeply painted pictures and can stand lumps of plot diversion that allow the author to develop the grain of the picture rather than its total image. I didn’t find the prose leaning to the ‘purple’ to be any problem. In fact I loved the well studied textures. What did annoy me was the padding with hardly relevant lists and references to film and literary history. Even if I wanted to wade through lists of media classics drawn from diverse dramatic arts it wouldn’t be in the middle of a fiction novel. They weren’t even marginally necessary to the conveyance of the plots drama and no one will convince me that anyone strung-out individual analyses information in that way.
This is a book centred completely on the mind of the character as guide and director, which means that we only tend to see support characters as one dimensional. The dimension they are usually seen in by the first person’s eyes. However, the other players were eventually painted well enough, being shown in greater depth not so much when the plot begged it; but rather more naturally, when the first person narrator became truly aware. But then that is a truth of life, we do tend to see characters as ‘flat’ personalities, as predictably animated instillations rather than as the rounded people they really are. Of course, people are never simple, but they can still be one dimensional to use even after a long time known. That actually is the whole point of the book, the central theme, being the rigid views that romantic love, social expectation and immediate impression bring. In this clever book we are led through that, even possibly nudged to recognise that flaws in our own observations. People are rarely even close to the masks we first paint and we suffer if we play to the single dimensions others have of us.
Will I read any more of Bell’s works? Possibly not, but that is a matter of my taste not the books artistic merits.