Sunday, October 09, 2016

Review: The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag

As soon as October begins, I like to read nothing but witch themed books. I make a few exceptions, but I tend to set aside these books until this time of the year.

I started with Menna van Praag's Witches of Cambridge. I'd been looking forward to reading this for a while. I love academic settings. One of my favorite books is about a witch in Oxford. I'd hoped for something similar with this book in regards to intellectual stimulation. Didn't happen.

The book started out well, and I enjoyed the first half. Very light read, focusing on relationships and babies and baking. In the beginning though, it reminded me a bit of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, which I loved. But about midway through, I began to lose interest. I thought the beginning was written in the way it was as a way to introduce characters and establish  the setting, but it never moved beyond that style of writing. In fact, about halfway through, it became even more distant and choppy.

There are six different witches in this story, and each of them have their own story lines, with some slight overlap. It was hard to follow their stories though because we would get about four to eight paragraphs about one character, and then it would jump to a completely different story line. This happened for a significant portion of the book. It made it difficult to stick with the book. I think it would have worked much better as a collection of short stories, each character getting her or his own story, with the same characters making a few appearances. Had I not already been about 70% into the book, I would have simply stopped reading because I didn't care about the characters. I never felt any kind of emotional connection to what was happening with their characters. They were suffering with problems in their families, their marriages, problems with their children and lovers, and I simply didn't care because I never felt like we learned enough about the characters to understand what they were feeling.

Also there were a few factual errors that bothered me. One person is a professor of art, another is a student, so in the beginning, there are several mentions of art. As an art lover, I thought this would endear me to the book, but instead, I was just annoyed with the mentions of art. Klimt's The Kiss is not on display at the Fitzwilliam (it's in Vienna), nor is Van Gogh's Starry Night (that's in New York City) or his Church at Auvers (Paris). I know the story is fiction, but if someone is going to mention real works of art, maybe at least explain why they're on display in other places - special exhibition or something. For other people, this might not be a big deal. But I travel to a lot of art museums and have seen these paintings, and I teach art, and when I show students works of art or have them look up information about paintings, I also require that they find out where the painting is currently located. So maybe don't mention specific paintings if the rest of the info about the paintings isn't accurate?

Overall, I didn't enjoy this all that much. Started out well, but by the end, was kind of wishing I hadn't read it.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley.

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