I’ve been a bit preoccupied with leaf dissections rather than reading at the moment. I’m fully immersed in the cellular structure of plants – the fine detail of rigid cell walls, bright green chloroplasts and the clever stomata. It’s fitting that the book that I have been dipping in and out of is also a work of fine detail – The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill. It’s about the dissection of a marriage.
The story begins with Cassandra and Abe and their daughter, Elizabeth, sailing on San Francisco Bay. Life’s good – Abe is a successful doctor, Cassandra a sculptor and Elizabeth is heading to Harvard. But then, out of nowhere, they plunge into a terrible fight. Cassandra has been unfaithful. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat. Their marriage ends and from there, Hill ricochets backwards and forwards in time, revealing the expectations, realities and secrets in a marriage.
I enjoyed the slow reveal – details accumulate, leading you to a fuller picture of each character. But you’re not always right. Hill’s curve balls might not be of the flashy variety but are unexpected nonetheless.
“Elizabeth had never known stackable plastic storage crates could stir a person so profoundly until her mother discovered them in an intra-aisle ziggurat at the bedroom susperstore. “Sweetheart,” she’d said, clutching one. “These are so you.” It was alarming, even more so than the earlier bouts of bathrobe grief. Those, at least, Elizabeth recognized from romantic comedies.”
The characters are given authenticity because they are unapologetic for their actions. This might be distasteful to some readers – I thought it was realistic. How often do we do things (deliberately, not accidentally) that impact on another person that we are truly apologetic for? Hardly ever? I’m struggling to think of a personal example and that’s not because I have a perfect record of behaviour but simply because I haven’t done anything in recent history that has needed an apology*. Usually, the things we do deliberately as adults are thought through, consequences and all.
Hill’s writing style has been compared to that of Jonathan Franzen. I really wonder if authors are totally over Franzen comparisons. Readers** are. Anyway, in this case the comparison is accurate. I wish I could think of an alternative… I’ll get back to you after my mid-semester-exam on cell biology.
I received my copy of The Violet Hour from the publisher, Penguin Books Australia, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
2.5/5 It’s a little slow in parts but it’s thoughtful.
Cassandra cooks risotto while she waits for Abe to return home (he doesn’t). Pair this book with the unusual sounding Meyer Lemon Risotto with Basil – I’ve never made this*** but it’s on the winter recipe agenda.
*I’m talking big stuff not “Sorry, I ate the last Mint Slice.”
** This reader is anyway (not because I don’t like Franzen. I just don’t like the marketing ploy of that comparison).
*** I rarely make risotto – don’t really have the required attention span for all that stirring. I do however like to eat it. Bring on the Parmesan.