30/11/2008

Miracle (by Danielle Steel)

I had, of course, heard of the American writer Danielle Steel. Her site states that she's the most popular living author, although I'm pretty sure her impressive sales and translation statistics don't match up to those of JK Rowling. Still, she is evidently widely read in the USA and elsewhere.

Yet, for some reason, I had never read any of her books. However, I was in the local thrift store a few days ago, and saw a whole shelf of Danielle Steel novels. At 30c each, I thought I might try a couple of them. So I picked up a couple that had interesting covers and were in good condition. I thought I might return for more if I liked them.

Yesterday I started reading 'Miracle'. I finished it this morning. Unfortunately, the speed is mainly to do with the shortness of the book. I found it easy enough to read, but not gripping, nor emotional, despite the claim on the front that it would make me 'laugh, cry and care'.

The story is about three people whose lives are drawn together after a major storm in San Francisco. Quinn is a wealthy businessman whose wife died some months previously, after a long illness. Quinn is estranged from his daughter and grandchildren, and carries a huge burden of guilt about his working life. He spent very little time with his family, and poured all his energies into building his empire, and now has many regrets. He has idolised Jane, his wife, and in reading her journals and poems after her death, feels that he never really knew her.

Maggie, his neighbour, is recently divorced. She was devastated when her son died, and it destroyed her marriage. So she too is deeply hurt, and trying to find a way forward in life.

Then there's Jack, a young carpenter who works hard to put the two houses right after the storm damage. Jack is honest and likeable, but has a secret which he is ashamed of.

The three gradually get to know each other, and institute regular Friday evening meals. Quinn wants to sell his house, and move onto a large yacht he is buying, to travel the world and hope to appease his guilt.

There's a lot of potential in this novel.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, very little of the potential is realised.

The writing is repetitive and cliché-ridden, with far too many introspective meanderings and very little in the way of action or conversation. The viewpoints change continually, and the authorial voice is evident, almost like a novel from the end of the 19th century in places.

What could have been heart-rending forays into the past feel self-indulgent and unrealistic. What could have been a dramatic and exciting conclusion, with a moving finale, was flat and rather dull. It was frustrating, because it could have been a very good book, in the hands of a different writer, or even a better editor. But I suppose, once an author has become a top-seller, novels are churned out rapidly, with nobody bothering to check for repetition or annoying clichés.

Checking other reviews, I see that this was considered a disappointing book, even by some of Danielle Steel's fans. So I'll read the other one I bought, in a month or two, and hope it's better. I'm sure she must have written some excellent books to have become so popular; even 'Miracle' had a good plot, and three main characters who were vivid and well-drawn.

As a plus, given the 'chick-lit' nature of this book, the love scenes, such as they are, are very low-key with no more than a kiss actually described. There's also a pleasing lack of bad language, unusual in modern novels.

I wouldn't really recommend this one, though, unless you want something very light and quick to read, without any emotional pull.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 30th November 2008

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