Title: The Light at the End of the Day (review copy)
Author: Eleanor Wasserberg
Genre: Historical Fiction
Blurb from Goodreads
A rich, moving, sweeping novel about a family forced to escape Krakow during the Holocaust
When Alicia and her family are forced to flee Krakow to escape the Nazis, they leave behind all their possessions, including Alicia’s most prized object – the portrait her father commissioned of her.
As they move from country to country, desperate to find safety, their once luxurious life in Krakow seems like a memory of another world. But Alicia never forgets the painting and what it represents, and after the war, she resolves to find the artist and recover what is hers.
I loved the sound of the blurb for this book: a painting that tells the story of a family just before, during and after WWII. How it links all these characters together over the course of decades… sign me up!
Sadly though the execution of this historical story left me cold.
I’m never great at remembering character names at the best of times which is why I rely so much on an author to truly create unique and memorable characters. For me that didn’t happen here at all. I frequently found myself getting daughters mixed up with their mother, fathers with uncles etc.
And this was because the writing style was so choppy. There seemed to be no cohesiveness to this narrative and therefore I found it difficult to find something to ground me as a reader to this story.
And I didn’t like the choice of perspective used either. It constantly kept me at arm’s length from all of the characters so I never fully connected nor empathised with them. There was a lot of telling in this book but no real showing of emotion behind it.
Case in point, the book really spent a lot of time focusing on how the painting that drives the plot was painted in the months prior to WWII. And during this time Karolina, the elder sister of Alicia who is the painting’s subject, was supposed to have fallen in love with the artist Jozef. And I honestly never felt any chemistry between these two characters. I didn’t feel that any dialogue they engaged in revealed any romantic feeling. I just found their romance to be a convenient plot device rather than something I was invested in as a reader.
I also found myself completely at a loss as to understanding the dynamics of the relationship between the matriarch of the Oderfeldt family and her husband Adam. Their marriage was not a faithful one but I never once understood why Adam was torn between his French lover and his wife. Again, the characters were just lacking in depth of emotion and therefore their character motivations were unclear most of the time.
If this hadn’t have been an ARC I would have DNFd because I really did not enjoy this book at all; I struggled to get through it over the course of five loooong days! However, I felt like I had a responsibility to the publishers and author to finish the book and see where the story ultimately led to. But even the ending couldn’t save this story for me. It raced through years and decades over the course of a few short pages, as opposed to the bulk of the novel which took sizeable chunks of page time to cover the years just prior to and during WWII, and therefore it felt rushed and ill thought out.
The one part of the novel I did feel was beneficial in some way was getting to understand how some of the Polish Jews were sent off to Russia to be used and abused in labour camps. This is an area of WWII history that I am very unfamiliar with and therefore appreciated that insight.
Sadly this book was not to my liking. I do think that reading this as an ARC set me at a disadvantage also as there were a number of formatting issues with my galley copy which most likely exacerbated my confused state (e.g. sentences and names missing capitalisation).
Overall not the book for me.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing 9th July 2020, 4th Estate