3.5/5 (ever so nearly a 4)
Like so many similar to it’s style and endeavor, this novel proves really hard to review without giving too much away – I feel that even to reveal the genre would be too close to ruining a few too many twists, but I’ll try my best…
A stark departure from his usual stomping ground of performance poetry, Tim Clare’s debut novel, The Honours invites us into a remarkably strange and imaginative world, far removed from its 1930’s English country setting. I picked up this book without knowing exactly what sort of a ride I was letting myself in for (
and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little swayed by the lovely cover design) but I was half expecting some sort of a mystery thriller with spies and codes and secrets. Turns out I was really, really wrong.
Set between the wars on a sprawling Norfolk estate, the story follows Delphine Venner, a willful and inquisitive thirteen year old girl teetering on the edge of adulthood and trying to assert her place in a world damaged by the horrors of the First World War. Firstly, let me just say that I think Delphine is a wonderful character and I fell instantly in love with her determined curiosity. I equally loved the darker, deeper glimmers revealed in her as the story progressed and, for me, her flaws and confusions built a character really rich in depth and emotional complexity.
Clare sews together an equally rich cast of supporting characters, each battling their own struggles and moral despondencies. Delphine’s father Gideon is a particularly unstable and tangled character. The way in which he struggles with the psychological effects of war adds an especially poignant element to the novel, one I really enjoyed, though I do feel Clare failed to properly connect the dots with him in the end and I was left very confused and not all too sure why things ended the way they did. Similarly, I feel like some of the relationships Clare introduced earlier on in the novel fizzled out with little explanation or promise of resolve, though I strongly suspect Clare was leaving his options open for a sequel here. (I could also talk for hours about Mr. Kung and how bitterly disappointed I was that we didn’t learn more of his story after the dramatic, haunting scene on the beach, but again, perhaps I’ll eat my words come the follow up…)
Stylistically, Clare’s writing is typically poetic; the prose brims with rich lyrical descriptions and the tone is dreamlike and brooding. If I close my eyes, I see a vivid image of Alderberen Hall, the grounds rolling down into the forest and out towards the Norfolk coast line. Building from a compelling prologue, Clare does a great job in setting an underlying tone of secrecy, lacing the narrative with a striking picture of post war lethargy. Though the first half of the novel received quite a bit of criticism for being slow, which is perhaps fairer to say of the middle stretch, I think Clare struck a clever balance of measured pace and gripping mystery with respect to revealing clues and hints, such that I found myself chasing the thrill teased by the beginning chapters in the pacy and action filled last third. Here, things started to get a lot weirder and I started to feel a bit silly in my genre estimations. The jarring change of direction felt anti-climactic despite the dizzying action scenes and I couldn’t help but feel my initial hopes had been too high. Though I usually welcome an unexpected ending, especially if I don’t see it coming as I definitely with this one, I’m not too sure it was a welcome shock with this story – I had to do a fair bit of reasoning with myself to keep from feeling tricked.
That said, I can see myself picking up the sequel when it’s released ( if only to find out more of Mr. Kung! ) as I really did enjoy Clare’s style and characters. I think there’s a lot of potential for maneuver with this one, and I’d be very interested to see how to story unfolds.