A Fierce Radiance

When I finished Lauren Belfer's A Fierce Radiance I did something that I rarely do -- I looked for other blogger's reviews before I started to write my own. I wasn't really sure what I thought of this novel. What I found was that many people loved this novel, but I don't think I am one of them.

That isn't to say that I didn't like the book. I did. I found the topic of penicillin production in WWII fascinating (which is saying a lot considering I'm allergic to the stuff). And I almost always enjoy books set in the WWII-era. I rarely read books about America in WWII (what can I say? I'm pretty loyal to the Commonwealth) so that captured my interest too. I also liked the mix of historical, thriller and love story.The writing was often beautiful. It was slow yet absorbing, a difficult balance to pull off but Belfer did it well. I liked the characters even if I didn't fully understand their motives (or necessarily buy into the romance completely). A Fierce Radiance had a lot going for it and I really wanted to like it.

But...I did not love it.

My problem was with the storytelling. A big problem for me is that when I am jumping through time in a book I kind of like it to be obvious. Often I found that the reference to the time that had past between one chapter and another was buried into a paragraph. I'd find myself a page or two into a chapter and sometimes wondering exactly when it was. Sometimes it would be a few days, other times a year. The bigger the jump in time the harder I found it to figure out what year it was and when you are setting a novel in a war the year often matters. I'm not really a float along through the seasons reader, at least not in this setting. When time has passed my head goes to, "Ok, x is happening on the Eastern Front and y on the Western. On the Pacific z is happening. Ok, I've got everyone placed." When I can't do that? Constantly trying to figure out where in time I was drove me kind of nuts.

I also don't mind chapters shifting focus from one character to another but I found it really annoying to get a chapter from a new narrator only to have them disappear from the story. I understand why we got those chapters but as a device it irritated me.

Also irritating? They are dead! No they are alive! I get that in war communication sucks but in my opinion it gets over-used in novels.

It sounds like I hated the novel. I didn't. I thought that Belfer set the atmosphere for the story beautifully. There was something about it that made you want to curl up under a wool blanket. Whether it was during one of Claire's photo shoots or a hospital room Belfer has a gift of putting into that space. As I said above, the story goes quite slowly but it's was also very absorbing. I even risked late fees at the library in order to finish it.

It's a book I wish I had loved.