I was really surprised by Loopyloo's review. This book won The World Book Award and tough critics such as Peter Guttridge (Observer) and Karla McKay (Daily Mail) raved about it. In addition it received starred reviews in both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, which is very hard to do. It is one of my absolute favourite books. The plot is layered, sophisticated and the fantastic comparison of the ancient Art of Memory with 21st century reliance on technology was riveting and sent me happily googling and researching on topics I never knew existed.
I loved the characters. The sisters are mysterious and not your run-of-the-mill women. Gabriel goes on a journey -- one which leaves him changed and enlightened. And this book must have one of the most poignant, ambiguous endings you could hope for. On top of this, this author's use of language takes your breath away.
Loopyloo thought this book was American? It says in the bio the author not only lives in London but she lives in Chelsea where the book is set. I have a friend who lives in Chelsea and I was actually wondering if Mostert had used any of the spooky, Victorian houses in Manresa Road as her model for Monk House!
My verdict (and that of many, many others -- after all, The World Book Day Award is an award that combines the votes of industry insiders with the popular vote of the public) is that this is an exceptional read. I was so bewitched by this book that I have read all Mostert's other books as well -- they're all wonderful -- but Witch is still my favourite.
Gabriel Blackstone is a remote viewer, one of few people with the exceptional ability to 'ride' a person's memories and experiences, to enter a person's mind.
Asked by an old flame to discover the whereabouts of her step-son, Robbie Whittington, Gabriel's remote viewing ability leads him to Monk House and its mysterious inhabitants, two beautiful and enigmatic sisters, Morrighan and Minnaloushe Monk.
What connects these women to Robbie's disappearance? What secrets lurk behind Monk House? What is the 'House of a Million Doors'?
I personally think that this book is perhaps best described as a paranormal thriller, but the publisher has also described it as a love story. Mostert's website has described it as a "modern gothic thriller about techgnosis and the Art of Memory".
~~~About the Author~~~
Natasha Mostert is South African and her career has included time as an academic and journalist. She currently lives in London with her husband. Season of the Witch is her fourth novel and won the Talk About: World Book Day 2009 Award.
Her other novels are The Other Side of Silence, The Midnight Side, and the Keeper of Light and Dust.
Information obtained from the author's website, www.natashamostert.com
Publisher: Bantam Books
Extras: Includes an excerpt of Mostert's next book (no title provided).
I have to admit that I couldn't connect with any of the characters. This dampened the experience for me as I didn't care about the issues that the characters faced. To me, a good book always have characters that, regardless of whether they are likeable, come alive and connect to the reader. The characters here were a little too two-dimensional.
Overall, the character development was inconsistent and largely predictable or non-existent. For example, the lead character, Gabriel, is handsome, brooding and cocky. His arrogance and belief in his powers caused him to make a massive mistake in the past and one which continues to haunt him. Although I didn't know exactly how things would pan out, I could predict that his character development would lead to redemption and self-discovery, if you will.
In addition, the relationships that existed were predictable: Gabriel was assisted by a computer geek, the former flame, Frankie, still believes in him and knows he can redeem himself, so on and so forth.
The plot contained the necessary elements, such as introduction, a little suspense, plot twists, climax, and conclusion. There are also numerous strands of plot which do come together at the end: there's a love story, the story of Gabriel's past, and the murder mystery, to name but a few. It did work well together.
For me, though, there were far too many twists and turns and the author had certainly written it with plenty of cliff-hangers at the end of chapters. I could so easily visualise things like in Lost and Flashforward, where a twist (often predictable) happens at the end of an episode and then you begin the next episode awaiting another turn in events. I will confess that this started to get annoying. It read like reading a movie.
This book begins slowly and it wasn't until the last one hundred pages that the pace of the storyline really picked up. On the one hand, this did help to build up a sense of atmosphere and expectation. However, it equally made it easy for me to put the book down and leave it for a few days. I am an avid reader and it feels wrong to be without a book on hand. While reading this, although I found it easy enough to read, I didn't feel compelled to pick it up.
The setting is Oxford and London. In some ways this is significant to the work, because they are two of the academic and information strongholds of Britain. Parts of the story rely on the fact that the characters have access to the academic and information environments.
However, if I feel uneasy about anything, is that at no point while I read this could I associate what I was reading with Oxford and London. If you told me it was based in America, with their large houses and open spaces, I wouldn't have had any doubt about believing it. There was nothing that made me feel that this was something happening on British soil, shall we say. Although the author has obviously lived in England, it actually felt American.
This 'American' style really came through with the idea of Monk House. Now, Monk House is critical to the story and is perfectly described as a house with secrets, but I couldn't stop imaging the Adams Family's house, though obviously without the monsters and cobwebs. The Adams' house is typically American.
Aside from this, I did find this book to be very visual. I found it incredibly easy to generate a picture of the setting and atmosphere. As mentioned, It read like I was watching it on television and I do think it would be something that could easily be transferred to screen.
*Would I recommend it?*
At first, I did think this was a debut novel and under those circumstances, I thought that while not brilliant, it was a decent first attempt. However, having found out it was actually her fourth piece, I was a little surprised. It isn't a bad book and it's not badly written. In fact, if it was screen play, it would be a predictable, but decent drama and this is the main point of my feeling towards it. It is as though Mostert wrote a screenplay, and then decided to extend it into a novel by putting description in. It is something that I am glad to have read, but I don't feel it has added anything to my reading experience. It doesn't make me want to read it again or seek out other works by this author.
© Loopylooploo, 2009. Also on Ciao.