Review: The Sunken Cathedral

Posted 1 June, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

The Sunken Cathedral
By: Kate Walbert
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster CA via the GoodReads First Reads programme

Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.

I’ve never read anything by this author but it was the premise that caught my attention. It sounded interesting–about a pair of friends who survived the Second World War and living now in New York City. I was pleasantly surprised to learn I had won an ARC of this novel via GoodReads. This book will be available in 09 June 2015.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel for the story. The first few pages were disconcerting, but I thought it just took some getting used to, getting a feel of the storytelling and slipping into the lives of these characters. But about a third into the story, I wasn’t feeling for anything at all–the story, the characters, even the setting. I only got through it because it was a relatively short novel and I just wanted to get to the end.

Everything about this novel just felt so disconnected. The characters felt remote, between me and them, and even between each other. I just didn’t get a sense of…character, of life, out of any of these characters even though the narrative broaches into their lives and experiences and utilises footnotes to express other thoughts and stories not necessarily related to that particular scene (it made the storytelling feel interesting, but after a while it felt just as disconnected and fragmentary as the rest of the story). In the end I just didn’t care for the characters even as tragedy struck and their lives got pushed and pulled in different directions, and not necessarily all intersecting at some point.

There are a few moments of lovely prose here and there and fleeting moments that the characters experience. Unfortunately these touch-and-go moments (as I call them) aren’t really grounded in anything to keep the reader going (in this case, the characters, or even something sembling a plot). I was really expecting something more about this book based on the premise, something more introspective than the vagueness that I read.

In the end, I agree with another GoodReads review that suggested that this novel should’ve been a short story or a string of short stories because everything was just so disconnected. Maybe other readers will get more out of this novel, but it just didn’t work for me.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

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