Thursday, 4 September 2014

Review of The Atlas of Us

Sometimes when I'm picking a quote to put with my review I pick one which I think sums up a key component of the book well, but this time I've picked the quote which I think most spoke out to me from the book. This actually happens at a fairly inconsequential part of the novel, and is a fairly unimportant conversation. However, it does speak volumes about a very important message behind the plot of the text.

I actually won this book in a twitter competition with Avon Books. This was the first book I've ever won, so I've been pretty excited to read it. Initially I thought this book was going to be largely about the 2004 tsunami (I read the prologue and had to put it down for a number of weeks, ugh). This particularly intrigued me as I haven't really found any literature about this before, so at first I was rather disappointed that it didn't continue in the same strain.

So now for what it's all about. The book travels along two stories. One follows the adventures of Claire Shreve, a barren journalist who is seeking to discover how to define herself as an adult woman who cannot become a mother. The other is all about a woman named Louise, who can only define herself through her loving relationship with her children and stale one with her mother. Louise's content marital life at home in the UK is suddenly put under the weight of the news that her mother was in the area in which the 2004 tsunami hit. She must fly out in an attempt to discover whether her enstranged mother is alive or has been lost to the sea. Once she gets there, she realises that her mother knew Claire Shreve, but how? Claire is trapped in a life determined by the fact that she cannot have children, and her husband is upsettingly optimistic about yet another round of IVF. She needs to learn how to be happy with her life as it is, and the best way to do this seems to be "stepping off the map" and travelling the world. The book follows the attempts these women make to discover their own path to happiness, and mothers and those without children alike may benefit from taking some lessons from this book.

I have to say, although I enjoyed the book in the end, at first I didn't like it a great deal. I felt that the plot was too simplistic and obvious. It was incredibly clear that the subject was personal to the author, and whilst that allowed for an authoritative take on some of the issues in the book I felt that certain ones in particular were stressed too much. The reader was aware that Claire was barren, they didn't need to be reminded every chapter. Saying that, perhaps that was the point - infertility is a problem that doesn't just go away, so why should the reader be allowed to forget about it if Claire couldn't? As I said before, the book grew on me. I thought that the ending was one of the most realistic I've read in a while. The realism of this novel was perhaps its strongest point. At the heart of the novel is a complex issue (trying not to give any spoilers), which could have simply seemed unbelievable if the novel were written badly, but the fact that Buchanan allowed the other components of the plot to be realistic made it work.

Have any of you read it? What did you think?


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