Book Reviews
Blue Diary: Alice Hoffman
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on Blue Diary: Alice Hoffman
Blue Diary: Alice Hoffman

If the blurb on the back cover hadn’t explained that the blue diary of the title belonged to a dead girl, brutally raped and murdered thirteen years earlier by Ethan Ford, one half of a beautiful couple whose perfect love and life are described in such unbelievable and sugary detail in the opening chapter, one might wonder where it came into the story at all, since it doesn’t really appear until near the end. The blurb also gives away the main focus of the plot itself, the crime and its perpetrator, so that, already knowing what had happened, I found the extraordinary depth of detail in the first hundred and fifty pages slowed the writing almost unbearably and nearly made me stop reading. It seems that each passing character is named, their thoughts and life story explored, the location and climate described on every page.

And yet at around this point (150 pages in) this same depth seemed to hook me. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more omniscient author than Alice Hoffman – she knows absolutely everything about all her characters – and how much plotting and planning that takes doesn’t bear thinking about. Her eye for detail, her analyses of feelings, are amazing, and if you can slow down and wallow in them the book becomes more than just a story – it reveals a whole world that will stay with you.

The story examines the very nature of both love and death from different viewpoints and situations; the way Ethan’s crime affects those around him, those who thought they knew him as a kind and gentle man, a loving husband a father, a firefighter who risked his life for others. Can a man change? If someone is not who you think they are, then who are they?

For me the best characters were sisters Kat and Rosarie Williams, neighbours of Ethan and Jorie Ford and their son Collie, both damaged in different ways by the suicide of their father, Collie himself and Jorie’s best friend, Charlotte. James Morris, the solitary haunted brother of the dead girl, was another who stayed with me; yet, perhaps because of that over-sugared first chapter, I never quite believed in or felt any sympathy with Jorie and Ethan Ford, and had difficulty in imagining the townspeople rallying round to help Ethan once he’d admitted to the crime. It’s worth mentioning too that Munroe, the small town where the story takes place is a character in itself, as is Holden and the farm and countryside where the dead girl lived; both are so beautifully evoked that one seems to walk through them as if in one of those super-realistic dreams.

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