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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: Eleanor - Jason Gurley

Updated: Sep 17, 2018

Genre: Fiction/Magical Realism

Published: Harper Voyager, march 2016

My rating: 4 stars

Rating: 4 stars

"Time is a river, and it flows in a circle"

It took me quite some time to review this book, as I felt so conflicted about it. I absolutely loved the first half and was sure it would be a 5-star read, but the second half took some turns I didn’t agree with. I think it was around page 150 that I stopped to ponder whether I was still reading the same novel or not… In a way, the novel switches genre, and possibly even target-audience halfway through. In order to properly review it, I will have to spoil this “genretwist”. I won't give away any any major story elements, but if you are interested in reading this book, and wish to go into it blind, consider this your spoilerwarning.

The first half reads like a literary fiction family drama, spanning three generations of women in the same family. To be completely fair; I was under the impression that the novel would be just that. The story starts off with the storyline of grandma Eleanor (the one that I maybe found the most interesting), who takes an extremely drastic decision that affects the two generations that follow. We shortly follow mother Agnes, only to cut to granddaughter Eleanor, who remains our protagonist for the rest of the story. It is later in the second Eleanor’s storyline where the story completely switches gears. A secondary “alternate dimension” fantasy storyline is introduced, and slowly takes over. With this change in tone and genre, the entirety of the book also started to read more like YA, than adult fiction.

Neither of which is better of worse than the other. Moreover; genre-bending stories can be some of the most original and best stories out there. It is however a big risk to take, for several reasons. The first being: the risk of alienating your audience. For example: I picked this up expecting literary fiction based on the synopsis and the first half. Finding out that a heavy part of the plot will contain fantasy/magical realism aspects was a big surprise to me. Luckily I like both those genres, so it wasn’t a problem for me. Imagine though, I hated fantasy. I would have felt incredibly cheated after reading over 100 pages of something great, only to find out that it goes into a direction (or even genre) I disliked… Again, this is not per definition bad. It is a risk; you are not giving your readers what it says on the tin. The second risk is that you have to be able to pull off both genres equally well. This is where Eleanor lost that fifth star. Although I love fantasy and magical realism elements, I didn’t feel like they were well integrated in this story. There is a big gap in skill in Jason Gurleys writing: he is a great literary fiction author, but an okay fantasy author. If this book had only been the former, and skipped on the fantasy-elements, it could have been a 5 star-read.

A second minor gripe was the heavy handed foreshadowing that happens, pertaining to a particular reveal. I’m sure most readers catch on to this the first time it’s mentioned, yet the author keeps layering on “hints”, and the protagonist remains oblivious to the end, despite her being a smart girl otherwise.

That being said: I feel like I have only focused on the negative in this review, which does not do justice to my experience with this book. The first half was amazing, incredibly atmospheric and darkly tragic. That feeling does remains throughout the book, even though the fantasy elements sometimes took me out of it. Jason Gurleys prose is beautiful, and I would love to read more from him. Lastly, like I mentioned: genre-benders can be hit or miss. For me, the genre-bending aspect here was a bit of a miss, but for someone else, this might be a huge hit. Do give it a try if you are interested! Even for the first half, it was worth my time.

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