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The Return - Victoria Hislop

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Victoria Hislop / Hardcover / 432 Pages / Book is published 2008-06-26 by Headline Review

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      26.07.2010 08:35
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      Not a book I will be re-reading or would recommend.

      The Return was published in 2009 and is set in both the modern day and the 1930s. In modern times, we meet Sonia, who goes on a holiday to Granada, Spain, to learn how to salsa and flamenco dance. Whilst there, she meets a mysterious old man who tells her the story of the Spanish Ramirez family, their troubles during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and their loves and lives in general. It's not too long before it seems that the lives of both Sonia and the Ramirez family, particularly flamenco dancing Mercedes, are linked...

      In terms of my opinion, parts of this book I liked and others I didn't like at all and found quite dull. The parts that described the start of the troubles and civil war were interesting and I could clearly picture the action, but during the middle section of the book, which featured the civil war heavily, I found that the pace lacked. In the middle I became bored and only really interested in the character of Mercedes - the other characters were not interesting enough to keep my attention for most of the book I'm afraid.

      The book moved between characters quickly, and I imagine this would keep the interest levels high, had the characters actually been interesting, but I found that too much of the plot was spent in the 1930s and there were not enough cuts back to modern times and Sonia. I found myself not caring what happened to Sonia and the things she had in her past.

      The ending of this book was pretty predictable to be honest, and it was easy to guess how Sonia was linked to the Ramirez family. All in all, I found the book a disappointing read, although it might be a decent enough book for the beach or on holiday at a push. I can't say I really enjoyed it though!

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        20.04.2010 15:02
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        A good story the first time, not so much the second

        Published in 2009, The Return by Victoria Hislop is a novel set in two time periods - it is framed in the present day, but the bulk of the narrative takes place in the 1930s.

        The main character in the present day is Sonia, whose life isn't quite working out. She heads on a dancing holiday to Granada with best pal Maggie, where she starts to uncover stories and secrets of the past; this is where the 1930s narrative comes in, taking us back to the time of the Spanish Civil War.

        The Return is well written, descriptive and vivid. It held my attention and I found it a quick and easy read. The main story, of a family torn apart by a brutal war, is not terribly original: it is what happened to so many Spanish families. The details however make it interesting: the children of the family are each different - a flamenco dancer, a guitarist, a revolutionary teacher, and a Fascist matador. It makes for good a story to have characters with these interesting hobbies/occupations, but it seems Hislop has taken each stereotypical Spanish profession to use in her novel.

        Having studied Hispanic Studies at university, including the Civil War, the Republican militias and the tragedy of Guernica in detail, I could find no fault in the historical framework of The Return. Of course, fictional characters are inserted into factual events, but it is done well, with no loss of accuracy that I could spot. Additionally, the fear the Republican supporters feel towards the newly installed Fascist regime under Franco is very convincing, and very well portrayed.

        The use of a present day heroine to frame a historical narrative is very good. I liked the present day story of a woman travelling abroad to unravel her family's secret past...that was my thought when I read Victoria Hislop's The Island recently (published 2006). Because the structure and premise of The Island and The Return are EXACTLY THE SAME. Young British woman with foreign (Greek/Spanish - delete as applicable) mother who is secretive about her past heads off to mother's homeland where she meets someone intimately connected with her mother's past who tells her the story of all the heartache and adversity (leprosy and Second World War/Spanish Civil War and Fascism) that her family had to overcome.

        I was so disappointed when I started reading The Return and discovered it was exactly the same as The Island. I really enjoyed The Island, but the identical structure and story format of The Return took away a lot of enjoyment for me. It was so damn easy to spot the twists and piece everything together. I actually wish I had read The Return first, because the Spanish Civil War is of much more interest to me than leprosy in Greece, so I would have liked to enjoy it as I enjoyed The Island by dint of reading it first.

        Discovering that these two novels are the same has really lowered my estimation of Victoria Hislop. After reading The Island I thought she was an excellent storyteller cleverly mixing past and present. Now I think she has only one story to tell and is telling it in different country settings.

        The Return is a good, well written and enjoyable book - but not so much if you've read The Island. If you haven't read it, then I would strongly recommend The Return. If you have, don't bother unless you like repetition in your reading material.

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          16.04.2010 00:17
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          An engrossing read

          I was leant this book and didn't have particularly high expectations for it having been told that it was an easy read and with a cover that didn't give much away. I spent much of the book wondering if the author was the wife of Ian Hislop, Have I Got News For You Panel lead. Well she is.

          Books on war are not my thing so I was surprised myself how much I actually got from this book. For someone who doesn't know/ realise much about the Spanish Civil War it is a great way to learn about it without realising you are learning as there is lots of human interest, love, relationships and flamenco dancing to add spice. Although the flashback scenario of the narrator did seem a little contrived it did not spoil the book and you got lost in the story so much it was almost a shock when you were brought up to present day.

          This book has prompted an interest for me in the Spanish Civil war, a fascinating period of history.

          I would recommend this book, it would make a great holiday read if you were about to go to, have recently been to, or intend to visit Spain. I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to read her first book The Island as I have heard it is even better.

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            06.01.2010 22:34
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            Interesting insight into Spain during the Civil War, but not enough romance!

            Sonia discovered her passion for dancing when she chanced upon a salsa class while living in London. Against the wishes of her conservative-minded husband, she travels to Granada, Spain, to be taught salsa from real Spanish ex-professionals. When stopping off at a cafe, however, she meets an old man who tells stories of the family who used to run the cafe, the Ramirez family. His descriptions of Mercedes Ramirez particulary inspire Sonia, as Mercedes was also a passionate dancer, and as Sonia delves deeper into Mercedes' story, she makes an incredible discovery...

            I admit that when given this book by a family member I was initially tempted to lay it aside, dismissing it for another book that seemed more to my taste. However, on reading the first chapter I discovered that it was more than an ordinary historical fiction novel. I was intrigued by the way the opening chapters were set in the present day, and how they gradually led into the harrowing account of a family living in Granada during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. However, I felt that using Miguel, the cafe owner, to tell the story was a rather cliched way to connect the present and the past narratives, and that this could perhaps have been implemented in a subtler way. The promise of romance at the beginning of the Ramirez' story peters out very suddenly, and does not find its way back into the story, which I found disappointing. However the simple idea of Mercedes' physical and mental journey through Spain is effective. Tragedy and disappointment are major themes throughout the book, and this was something I did not at all expect; on the other hand it could be argued that this reflects the situation in Spain at the time - no one could have predicted how much the Civil War would affect Spain.

            Overall, this novel has an affecting storyline but in places it seemed predictable, and the plot lost its momentum towards the end. Bear in mind that it is not a feel-good story about dancing in Spain; its genre is leans more towards the historical and tragic. I would not say this was light reading but it certainly draws you in and attaches you emotionally to the characters.

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              06.01.2010 19:37
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              A great book written by Victoria Hislop, best selling author of The Island

              Sonia Cameron takes a short holiday with her friend to attend a salsa dance course in Granada, Spain. Whilst on holiday she finds herself in a small quiet café and begins a conversation with the owner who reveals to her story behind Granada's troubled past. Sonia finds herself drawn into the story of the Ramirez family who owned the café and in doing so learns about the effects the Spanish Civil War had on ordinary people.

              "The Return" is written by Victoria Hislop who wrote the best seller "The Island." I had not read any of her books but was lent this book by a friend, reading the back of the book I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it, I knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War and don't tend to read historical novels. However after reading the first few chapters I was drawn into this book and could not put it down.


              The book is beautifully written and really captures the emotions and fears of the characters. Having said that I found the first part of the book slightly disappointing and could have given up but I am glad I didn't. I understand the need to introduce the character Sonia back in England as it is relevant to the story later on however I didn't really connect with the story until she was in Spain and had met the owner of the café. However that doesn't spoil the rest of the story which I thought was great.

              This is a story that gives so much. It is a good historical novel, I have to admit to not being an expert on the Spanish Civil War but from what I can work out it is quite historically accurate and did enlighten me to what terrible things went on in Spain. It is however a great character story, not only are the characters described really well and really brought to life but they also go on a journey and develop through the book which is really great.

              The book has many stories within the story. The main stories are that of Sonia who lives in England and is married to a rather over-bearing husband and who is not happy with her life but doesn't know what to do. Her only joy is her dancing and this is what takes her to Spain.

              The second story is about Mercedes Ramirez whose passion is for dancing the flamenco. The story begins with her as a young girl but progresses as she grows into a young woman and the effect that the Spanish Civil War has on her. Her character was really great, she is a very determined and brave woman and the author really brings her alive.

              The third story is about Mercedes brother Antonio who goes to fight in the Civil War and shows us another side of things, that from a soldiers point of view.

              As a woman I found the story of Mercedes more interesting than that of Antonios but it was good to have the two together to be able to compare and contrast.

              I really enjoyed this book, it is beautifully written and really draws you in. I am now going to go and get "The Island" and I hope it is every bit as good as this one.


              592 pages

              Currently £4.76 from Amazon

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                12.09.2009 20:13
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                Worth a "Richard and Judy" recommendation!

                Anyone who ever buys a book based on the "Richard and Judy Book Club" will probably have read "The Island" by Victoria Hislop. When I saw "The Return" for 10p at my parents village fete I could not resist!

                The book is set both in the modern day and in the 1930s in Spain. Two stories are told - a contemporary one at the beginning and end and a historical one in the middle.

                Modern plot
                Centres around Sonia - a 30 something married to a boring, older man who desperately wants her to settle down and have babies. She, however is a passionate person who loves to dance and enjoy life. She is persuaded to go on a dancing holiday to Granada in Spain with her best friend Maggie.

                Whilst there she discovers a passion for flamenco dancing and quite by chance meets an old man in a cafe who talks to her about the history of the Rodrieguez family during the spanish civil war.

                Historical Plot
                Through the eyes of the old man the history of the family is given - the main characters include:
                Mercedes - a beautiful young girl who is an extremely talented flamenco dancer.

                Ignacio - her brother - a bull fighter / matador.

                Emilio - her brother, a gentle homosexual in a time when it was dangerous to be that way.

                Antonio - her brother, a passionate young man desperate to fight for freedom.

                Pablo and Concha - her parents

                Javier - her lover and partner in the flamenco performance.

                The story is set in the period before and during the Spanish civil war, it uses the characters to explore the conflict from the point of civilians being killed and displaced, soldiers and participants.

                If, like me you never really learnt about the conflict you will be surprised at the sheer number of casualties and the terrible suffering on both sides.

                Hislop uses the characters to describe the horrors of war including, torture, shelling, and illness.

                She is, in general very critical of the role played by European nations in the conflict and appears to question whether more could have been done to prevent the war.

                The novel does not try to shield the readers from the horrors of war in any way, so be prepared to see quite how bad things were.

                Relief is given through the relationship between the characters and the growth in the characters of Mercedes and her family.

                Style
                Hislop uses the third person and has a wonderful descriptive style - I was really able to picture what was happening throughout and felt drawn in and wanted to know what would happen to the characters.

                What is good about it?
                Lovely descriptive style and strong characters which develop as the story progresses.

                The book does not glorify the war and does not really support either side, other than just to critisise the European input.

                The relationship between the characters are convincing and there is clever use of journeys to describe the impact of the war throughout the novel.

                What is wrong with it?
                The link between the contemporary story and the historical one is weak and almost slightly crass (I won't ruin it!) - I wasn't really sure that you actually needed both - the historical story being the stronger of the two and more compelling. Possibly the book would not have sold without them both!

                The modern story feels forced and formulaic - women in an unhappy marriage looking for a way out, and strangely enough finding an option on a holiday in Spain?

                Overall what do I think?
                The descriptive tone of the book is fantastic and Hislop is easy to read. Although one story is stronger than the other both are readable and this was a gentle read.

                I did learn a lot about the Spanish Civil War - but much more about the suffering it caused and the sheer number of people killed than the reasons for the conflict - so could very loosely be called educational.

                Would recommend as a relaxing, holiday read!

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                  30.08.2009 21:23
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                  I will not be Returning

                  I have to be the only book fan left in the UK who hasn't read Hislop's first book "The Island", which was popularised by Richard and Judy's book club a couple of years back. However, I thought I would give this book a go.

                  It is now on paperback and available on Amazon for £3.86.

                  The book starts in the present day. Sonia is unhappily married to a stuffy, unsympathetic but successful man. She discovers a passion for flamenco and goes to Granada with bohemian childhood friend Maggie. She becomes seduced by the dance and the culture and begins a conversation with a cafe owner about the history of the cafe owners.

                  The current cafe owner tells her about a family that used to own it prior to the Spanish Civil War and begins to tell their story. From there the novel changes tack and is told as though the Civil War is in the present. The reader is shown a family torn apart by prejudice, violence, political difference and love as each family member goes on their own quest for righteousness and survival. In particular we follow a young woman called Mercedes who is an accomplished flamenco dancer and leaves to track down a guitar player who she believes to be the love of her life.

                  What follows is an epic quest for survival against the background of violence, political instablility and poverty from which it appears no-one is safe and Mercedes family is just as affected as everyone else.

                  I found the initial present day stuff to be quite convincing and engaging. Sonia becomes a well-rounded and sympathetic character. However the Civil War story which takes up the vast majority of the book is ultimately unconvincing and sadly uninteresting. The misery and deprivation of the characters itself is well written, but it is difficult to invest in them and ultimately it all just becomes a bit relentless without really having much to say.

                  The writing is quite simplistic in that the language is not overdescriptive, which is a blessing because it is overlong as it is.

                  It just doesn't seem to know what it is, whether its a love story, an epic, a war story, or a fictional story based in real life historic context. Ultimately I stuck with it to the end but lost interest long before that. Its a shame that I wasn't really engaged as the Spanish Civil War is a part of European history that I do not know very much about.

                  Ultimately, I found this a dull, disappointing read given Hislop's track record.

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                    09.08.2009 01:40
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                    Bit boring, bit worthy but OK for a summer read

                    I was excited to see the second novel by Victoria Hislop as I had enjoyed The Island so much and while I did enjoy The Return I have to say I was quite disappointed as it was very similar in some ways to the first book in the way the historical story was told to the modern day character but the background of the Spanish Civil War just didn't engage me in the same way as the story of the island for lepers off Crete did.
                    It often felt contrived and overly full of historical details almost to prove the author had done her research properly and while I cared about some of the characters and their story I wanted to skim chunks of the book when it focussed on others, in other words I thought it was a bit boring in parts. I don't know how accurate the book is about the events of the civil war but I do feel I understand a bit more about this period in Spanish history now having read the book but hope that the author doesn't end up writing another version of this book but using a different historical background because am not sure I could face reading the same again.

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                      01.06.2009 12:17
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                      If you haven't read The Island you'll enjoy this more

                      The Island by Victoria Hislop has to be one of my favourite books so when I spotted this for £3.98 in Sainsburys (and already at number 1 in the chart) I had to have it.

                      Anyone who has read The Island will know that it is a trip back in time started by somebody reminiscing, this story is very similar in that way.

                      The book is split into 3 parts.
                      In Part One we are in Granada in the year 2001 with Sonia and Maggie, two friends on a Salsa holiday. They both love dance and are taking lessons, after seeing a Flamenco show one evening Sonia becomes obsessed with the more passionate of the Spanish dances.
                      She finds a cafe with a lovely old man owner and gets chatting to him over her morning coffee, on the walls of the cafe are hundreds of photos of both a bullfighter and a young flamenco dancer and Sonia asks who they are and why so many pics.....

                      Part two returns to 1931 to Granada as the old man tells the story of the Ramirez family who lived and worked in the cafe they are sat in right now.
                      We meet the Ramirez family, the two main characters of the family are going to be brother and sister Antonio and Mercedes. In the family there is also mum-Concha, dad- Pablo and brothers Ignacio and Emilio.

                      Ignacios love is bull fighting, he has different political beliefs to the rest of his family and this will cause uproar in the future.
                      Emilio is a flamenco guitarist and music is his passion, he is homosexual which makes him the butt of many of the towns jokes. He and his guitar accompany Mercedes as she flamenco dances for family and friends. She hopes one day to be the most famous in Spain.
                      Mercedes has a chance meeting with a famous flamenco guitarist; Javier and its love at first sight for the two of them.

                      At this point the story seems to be one about the passion of dance, bullfighting and true love and it really does seem as simple as that!

                      But no...the story erupts into one of politics as the old man tells the tale of one of many familys in Spain who were torn apart by the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
                      For Part three of the book we follow Mercedes on her search for her one true love and also Antonio as he becomes a soldier and fights for his country. Their two stories are very contrasting but it's easy to keep up as the author switches between them.


                      In many ways the book is very similar to The Island and I love that, the story for me is not as gripping or unusual but I still enjoyed it. Hislops writing style makes this another perfect book for summer as despite the country tearing itself apart it is still described well in all its beauty and she really makes you feel as though you are there.

                      I feel Part one is a bit drawn out, Sonia and Maggie have nothing to do with Granada and really are just two tourists so I don't feel like I need to know so much about them and what they think of Flamenco.
                      I think Hislop could have condensed the intro to the cafe owner to a few pages rather than 150!
                      Part two and three make up for this though as they are action packed and I couldn't put the book down at this point.

                      The history and passion of the country is fascinating but I won't be rushing to read this again soon, it would have been a good book in its own right but I can't help comparing it to Victoria Hislops best seller, there is even a circle on the cover of this saying 'From the best selling author of 'The Island' so this is probably the main selling point of the book which is a shame.

                      Now i've finished this i'm reading The Island yet again!

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                        02.05.2009 21:00
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                        A family saga against the Spanish Civil War

                        Much to the annoyance of her domineering husband, Sonia accepts her best friend's invitation to join her on a salsa dance course in Granada. Before she leaves, Sonia pays a visit to her elderly father who shows a keen interest in her dancing, telling her about how he and her late mother were keen amateur dancers in their younger days. He shows her some photographs but quietly puts one of them to the side without showing Sonia. When her father is out of the room she sneaks a look at the photograph which shows a group of children, one of them obviously her mother; although she doesn't know exactly where it was taken, she suspects it was in Spain where her mother grew up. Sonia doesn't know much about her life in Spain, she never wanted to talk about it and one on occasion when Sonia came home asking if they could go on holiday to Spain like her school-friends, her mother screamed that she never wanted to hear the place mentioned again.

                        While in Granada, Sonia gets talking to the elderly owner of a bar, El Barril, a place she had been drawn to because she felt it looked familiar. Inside on the walls are vintage posters advertising bullfights and flamenco. The bar owner explains that toreador and the flamenco dancer were the son and daughter of the family that used to own the bar. Sonia is intrigued and a few weeks after she returns to England the opportunity to go back to Granada presents itself and she seizes it. There she meets up with Miguel, the bar owner, again and he tells her the story of the Ramirez family and what happened to them during the Spanish Civil War.

                        "The Return" is the second novel by author of the best seller "The Island", Victoria Hislop and it follows a similar plot: a young woman visits her mother's homeland and learns about the family history. In this case, the setting is Spain, not Greece, but other than this the idea is pretty similar. In "The Island" the main character disappears to contemplate her stuck-in-a-rut relationship and in "The Return" Sonia is married to a man who wants Sonia to join the twin set and pearls brigade like the wives of his friends. Sonia is beginning to wonder whether she and James ever really had anything in common.


                        Both stories feature events in the not too distant past; here it's the Spanish Civil War. I must admit to not knowing a great deal about the conflict, naturally my school history lessons focused more on World War Two. I knew a little, however, and the excellent historical detail of this novel filled in the gaps. At times, though, the detail came thick and fast and would have been better absorbed if done more gradually. Although my knowledge of Spanish geography is good, it might have been a good idea to have a map of Spain at the front of the book to make the accounts of the journeys people undertook by foot more meaningful and to get a better idea of how much of the country was occupied by the fascists at key points.

                        Several sections of writing stood out in particular. One of Mercedes's passion for flamenco dancing; the descriptions of her performances in crowded bars are magnificent and, when, after curfew is imposed in occupied Granada, her older brother Antonio catches her sneaking in late at night after a performance, she utters a simple, yet anguished "I can't give it up" which sums up her dedication and her love of flamenco.


                        The bullfighting career of Ignacio also stands out. Hislop captures perfectly the drama and the horror of the spectacle and paints a portrait of a cocky young man, drunk on the adoration of the aficionados. The descriptions of his sparkling outfits catching the sun as he taunted the bull contrasted wonderfully with the agonies of his mother as she sat watching her son dice with death.

                        Hislop captures the misery of war just as well; the bleeding feet of the refugees fleeing bombed cities, the hunger of hollow-cheeked children and the anguish of mothers who sons have been arrested in the middle of the night.

                        The characters are magnificent, not just for the individual portraits but also for the brilliant skill Hislop has for writing about families. I loved Concha, the Ramirez family matriarch who tried to stop her sons tearing the family apart because of their opposing political beliefs. Her strength and dignity in the face of great sorrow were quite impressive. The contemporary characters are adequately portrayed but rather pale in comparison to this close knit Spanish family, still this doesn't matter too much as its the Civil War story that matters.

                        Those expecting a light-hearted novel about a pair of women who go on holiday to learn to dance will be sorely disappointed. That is merely a means to an end - to place Sonia in Spain to learn about the past. This is a family saga, one rooted in horrific events and although it has been touted as a beach read this is no fluffy chick lit. The placing of the contemporary story around the history of the Ramirez family is the book's major failing. There is no need for it. It worked well enough with "The Island" but it wasn't needed there either. The main event in both books is the history of a family and both are really excellent stories that could stand alone. In the case of "The Return" the idea of a woman going to Granada to have salsa lessons then stumbling upon her family history is more than a little far-fetched. At least in "The Island" the main character goes deliberately in search of her family history which makes it more credible.

                        I'm not knocking "The Return" at all; I'm merely suggesting that beginning the book with a contemporary character who learns about her family is a case of dumbing down. The story of the Ramirez family is engaging and compelling and brilliantly told. It's almost as if historical fiction is a dirty word; perhaps it's an attempt to broaden the readership. Whatever it is, it's not necessary; intelligent readers will appreciate this book for what it is and don't need to be drawn into it by a nursemaid.

                        "The Return" is an exceptional novel that educates and entertains in equal measure. If you can get past the somewhat lacklustre modern day introduction this really is a very worthy read.

                        592 pages

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                          25.08.2008 19:53
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                          dissapointing if you have read her first book

                          The Return by Victoria Hislop...


                          Victoria Hislop's first novel was The Island which was published a few years back now and I have ever since reading that been waiting for the next instalment from Hislop. I enjoyed "The Island" so much and it still has a lasting affect on me even now that frankly I was rather disappointed with Hislop's attempt at a second book.

                          The beginning of the book starts off quite promising and is set in the current times as the book continues on the story of one woman and her friend setting off for dance lessons in Spain and within a few chapters we are transported back to the time of the Spanish Civil War. In the chapters that follow there is a story relating to a Spanish family and their struggles through out this tough time in a war torn Spain. However, I felt there was far too much of the mundane world of the war. It really did seem endless. Of course iw as prepared for there to be a lot written regarding the Civil war as really that is what the book is about but the way in which Hislop carried on with it I found rather dull and was wishing the chapters away.

                          The large middles section of the book I found rather disappointing and was grateful when the ending was in sight. The book did pick up again nearer the ending when it reverted back to the present time and the connection between the two was revealed but all the way through I found that I was on to how the connection was made and it was of no surprise to me when it was eventually revealed.

                          I did finish the book and funnily enough, I still sped through it as if it were a book I was actually enjoying. I think the main reason for this is the writing style, which is more addictive than the actual words that are written. I know this sounds bizarre but once you have read a Hislop novel, I think you will understand my theory.

                          I can honestly say I did not find this book overly boring and it was not that I didn't like the book but it really just gave far too much reference to the war itself and in parts became more of a non-fiction book of the Spanish Civil war rather than being a fictional piece. I do however love the way in which Hislop writes and I don't think that by reading this book it has put me, in any way, off of reading any other novel that she may or may not write.

                          I would give this book a score of 5/10. I read it quickly but I feel I may forget it quickly too. If you do however want a really good read opt for her first novel "The Island" which will leave a lasting imprint on your mind. This book would be really good if you were a fiction reader who wanted to know a lot about the Spanish Civil War otherwise I would say don't buy it (maybe borrow it).

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