The Shape of Sand

Apologies that I can’t recall what review made me put Marjorie Eccles on my TBR list, but it did mention that as a stand-alone The Shape of Sand was an excellent place to start.

image from us.macmillan.com

The Jardine family lived a life of luxury at leisure at their country estate of Charnley, centered around the beautiful and flirtatious hostess Beatrice Jardine. In the summer of 1910, however, scandal rocked the family and nothing was ever again the same. Forty years later, when a body is discovered at the house as well as Beatrice’s journal of her pivotal trip to Egypt, Harriet Jardine believes this may be the opportunity to piece together the events of long ago.

It took me a relatively long time to get into the book, up until halfway through when the body is identified ( it is found in the first chapter).  The story jumps around too much, beginning in the “present” (1946) to catch our interest and returning to 1910 to tell of that fateful summer, with narrative of the Egypt trip interspersed. This structure creates some suspense, but primarily confusion. Even after returning to Harriet and other present viewpoints, the novel seems torn as to whether it is actually a mystery, or just a historical drama. The investigator seems almost superfluous, while half the evidence seems to be characters finally propelled to share what they witnessed that night.

Harriet did not seem enough like a main character, but I did feel like I had a good understanding of Beatrice and all three of her daughters. In addition, Ms. Eccles provides a nostalgic view of Edwardian England, at the time as well as looking back after two wars. The story focuses on a relatively small circle of people, and at one point in the story she details how much everyone was effected not only by the plot events but also WWI especially. On top of Maisie Dobbs it was quite heart-wrenching. She captures the rations and ruins of post-WWII London just as well. I mean in no way to belittle the American cost of war, but sometimes it seems as if we got off easy compared to England because of our shorter involvement.

Overall The Shape of Sand was good, with evocative descriptions and enough suspense to make me want to try one of her other mysteries, but I think it could have been great had it been more cohesive and less jumpy.

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Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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