SO FAR AWAY by Meg Mitchell Moore


I was excited to read So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore, the second novel from the author of The Arrivals, which I reviewed here. It has gotten a lot of positive reviews, and I found the plot intriguing. It’s about three women – Kathleen is a single older woman who works at the Massachusetts Archives, Natalie is a thirteen-year old who is being bullied by her ex-best friend, and Bridget is an Irish immigrant in Boston in the 1920s. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways, and each finds some solace or understanding in the others.

Unfortunately, this book fell a little flat for me. I found the triangle contrived, with Bridget’s story too attenuated from Kathleen’s and Natalie’s to fit in the way the author intended. I am not sure what role the Bridget story was intended to play – there was enough going on between Natalie and Kathleen that the plot conceit of the old diary wasn’t really needed.

I also found one theme – girls in danger – to be so overdone and explicitly stated that it got tiresome. Yes, Natalie’s self-absorbed parents were clearly at fault and Kathleen’s clumsy attempts to help Natalie – and to redeem her own failings as a mother – were compelling. But the theme was overstated – literally, written out every few pages. I think the reader would have picked it up just fine without all of the reminders. Children are at risk every day – from injury, from evil at the hand of peers, from drugs. And parents are supposed to pay attention to them and protect them. That’s basically what So Far Away was about, and it was a bit heavy-handed.

I liked The Arrivals because of Moore’s skill in exploring the complex, individual emotions of a whole family stuck in a house for a summer. So Far Away felt like a step back – it was less subtle, less complex, and ultimately less satisfying. I read eagerly more because I wanted to find out what would happen, and less because of my appreciation for the skill of the writer.

I seem to be in the minority on this one – there are lots of very positive reviews of So Far Away. So give it a try and see for yourself if it sounds intriguing.

Thank you to Little, Brown for the review copy.

 

 

 

8 Comments

  • June 6, 2012 - 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I never got around to The Arrivals, but it sounds like that one is a better starting place. I’ve read mixed reviews of this one, and while the premise intrigues me, contrived sends me running the other way.

    • gayle
      June 6, 2012 - 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I’d start with The Arrivals. I liked it a lot more.

  • June 7, 2012 - 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Gayle,

    Thanks for this review. I am really interested in your comment, “I read eagerly more because I wanted to find out what would happen, and less because of my appreciation for the skill of the writer”. Weirdly, when this happens to me, I have difficulty in deciding how much I liked a book.

    For example, sometimes I’ll read a book and find myself totally sucked in to the action, even when other aspects of the book are annoying. I’m thinking of books like The Hunger Games Trilogy, the Girl With a Dragon Tattoo books and even the Twilight series. In each case, I was bugged by certain things (sometimes many things), but kept reading to find out what happens.

    Of these three, the Twilight books were the worst, and I simply could not force myself to finish the final book. By the end, I just didn’t care. But with the Hunger Games, even though by Book 2 I was feeling like she was hammering me with her messages about political violence, reality TV, complicity, etc, I still stayed up half the night reading to see how it would all be resolved. And I definitely WAS entertained.

    So if I stay up all night reading a book, do I have to say I “liked” it? If a book manages to totally suck me in, does that mean it’s “good”? What do you think?

    • gayle
      June 7, 2012 - 7:09 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good question. I tend not to read what I call mass-market bestsellers (50 Shades, Twilight, Da Vinci Code) – once a book gets super popular, I tend not to want to read it. Yes, I am a book snob. 🙂 So when I say that the plot carried me more than the writing, I’m probably still talking about a pretty high level of writing. Meg Mitchell Moore is a good writer; I just liked The Arrivals more than So Far Away, and in the end I wanted to know what happened even though I found the book flawed.

      I think if the writing is really bad, I will give up no matter how suspenseful the story, and will find another way to find out what happened. 🙂 I can’t say I enjoyed a book if the writing sucked.

  • June 7, 2012 - 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Carol, It’s an interesting question. I think a novel can succeed in some ways and fail in others. That quality of grabbing the attention and almost compelling continued reading, seen to an almost excessive degree in works like Dragon Tattoo, is an important element in a successful novel, but it’s only one. It is created by certain choices the writer makes to fuel suspense and a sense of unease. But ultimately readers have to feel like they got something of value in exchange for the hours they gave to a book. And if they get to the end, and don’t?

    Case study of a really ridiculous, almost laughably badly written book that I (along with millions of other people) could not put down: The Da Vinci Code.

  • Pingback: Finding Family, New & Old: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore « Bay State Reader's Advisory: Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian

  • June 21, 2012 - 8:14 am | Permalink

    Wanted to let you know I linked to your review yesterday (when I got my review written and posted at long last.)
    I liked The Arrivals also, but I think So Far Away is actually the better novel! The author resists many instances where she must have had the impulse to wrap things up more neatly for the characters (which I thought happened in The Arrivals a little bit.) I thought Bridget’s diary shows how grief and regret may stay with you but you can still create a life for yourself without having it be a betrayal of the past.

    • gayle
      June 25, 2012 - 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Interesting! I didn’t mind how things wrapped up in The Arrivals, but I see your point.

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