Having loved Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help', I was greatly looking forward to reading another book set several decades ago in the southern states of America. I picked up Carolyn Wall's debut novel 'Sweeping up Glass' expecting to be submerged into a beautiful story that brought the Kentucky countryside to life, while making some interesting points about the racial segregation prevalent at the time while keeping an engaging narrative. Instead, I found 'Sweeping up Glass' to be about as riveting as sweeping my kitchen floor, and maybe not even that much.
This novel is the fictional story of the life of Olivia Harker, told from when she is a small child up until her mid-forties. The first third or so of the book consists of the story of her life so far, and then for the rest of it she is a self described 'old woman' in her forties. While I thought that the events of her childhood, such as how she managed to be a grandmother to an eleven year old at such a young age, and her feelings about growing up poor with an absent mother who didn't love her and wishing she was black instead of white, would captivate me, but instead I found myself quite bored throughout. It unfortunately appears that while Carolyn Wall was capable of having all the elements of a good piece of fiction, she was unable to write it in such a way that kept the reader's attention or interest. The fact that I persevered with this book and read it to the end is more credit to my ability to see things through than to the author's way with words. I continued reading 'Sweeping up Glass' to the end because I truly did want to like this book and wanted to give it a chance to improve. I lament the fact that it didn't.
Even more than the dull narrative, I was particularly disappointed by the lack of atmosphere in this book. Not once did I get a proper feel for the part of the world in which this is set other than it being very rural and poor, and so I honestly felt that many parts of the book could have taken place anywhere. I also felt that there was a total lack of emotion in the writing, as although it was written in the first person I rarely got the impression that Olivia truly felt anything at all even at major points in her life and I never really cared about what happened to her at all. If this was purposefully done by the author it wasn't obvious to me and was a mistake, in my opinion.
If you would like a book that captures the spirit of the old South, then go and read one of the books that I mentioned earlier, and if you would like a book with a good story and interesting characters, then go and read whatever you like as long as it isn't this one.
At least I didn't have to pay too much for this novel. I bought the paperback with the cover pictured above, which costs £4.78, but you can buy one with a much nicer cover for £7.74 (which you can see by searching for the book on Amazon). Whatever the cover, though, I won't be recommending that you buy this.
Since this is only her first novel, I feel that I may have been too harsh on Carolyn Wall, and perhaps her writing style will improve by the time she writes a second one. After all, whenever I've told anyone the whole plot of this book (which I haven't done here in order to not spoil it for anyone who does still want to read it) I've realised that the story itself does sound really good with some promising twists and turns, and so if the writing style was a bit better I could be giving this book 4 or 5 stars instead of merely 2. If she does write another book and I hear that the writing is much more compelling than in 'Sweeping up Glass' then I may be tempted to give it a go. I shall not, however, be running out to buy it based on this disappointment.