What would you get if you just collect all your random scribbles, lather it with pots of treacle (or for us Indians, jaggery), stick all the pages together and then hang them out to dry? Something similar to this book, I guess. Some reviews describe this book as “heartwarming”. I would prefer a stronger word, how about nauseatingly sweet?
OK, you get that I really didn’t like this book much at all. Not that this is a terrible book, but it just did not appeal to my sensibilities, and I”ll explain why in a little more detail after the brief synopsis of this book.
Ella Brady is a young girl who is recovering from a traumatic affair with a married man that ends rather badly. To distract herself from her misery and to earn some extra money, she and her friends decide to make a documentary film about a popular restaurant in Dublin called Quentins. The focus of the film is supposed to be stories about the oweners and employees who run the restaurant, the people who eat there. The aim is to basically depict a new, thriving Dublin and remove stereotyped impressions of the Irish people.
How disappointing then that this book reinforces all the stereotypes and more!
The more I read this book, the more I got the feeling that Dublin is almost like a small town in an earlier era. What a shock to find the year of publication was 2002! Surely, Dublin is a thriving global city by now!! I found I just could not swallow such random co-incidences about people finding long-lost relatives in Dublin pubs.
There are tons more plot aspects that just did not sit well with me:
- How about the fact that the heroine Ella Brady must be the daftest girl I have ever read about? She enters into an affair with a married man completely believing his proclamations that he has an “understanding” wife and that they have an “open” marriage. He just mentions this fact to her; she then puts her hand on his and says “I believe you”. Arggh! I was slapping my hand against my head…girl, if you do want to have an affair with a married man, at least be smart about it. I wanted to give her a bunch of Cosmopolitan mags and just drill sense into her head. She then proceeds to continue believing and hoping in him even when he has shown himself to be a cad several times over.
- How about the fact that the only gay character in the novel dies of AIDS? I thought this hoary old stereotype that only homosexuals get AIDS died in the last century.
- Or the fact that the title character Quentin who owns the restaurant and is easily one of the more interesting characters is not developed at all. Suddenly, he decides to travel and exits the book only to make a small, unsatisfactory guest appearance somewhere close to the end.
- Or that this book requires a certain amount of suspension of belief? Would you believe in a story where a waiter working in a restaurant is kind to a shabbily dressed customer who then turns out to be a millionaire? The millionaire basically buys the restaurant and hands it over to the little boy. I read this section open-mouthed with shock and disbelief 🙂 .
- Ella’s second romance with a man who has an “open, honest, square” face has zero chemistry and just screamed rebound to me.
By now, you must be wondering why did I complete reading the book if it was so bad. Well, the reason is it’s not that bad to read. It starts well and the concept is promising. The pacing is good, and it’s easy reading, so you can quickly skip over the uninteresting bits. There are also some excellent vignettes about the people who eat at the restaurant. However, the main characters are pretty much cardboard cutouts and it really affects the quality of the book. The ending of the book is also a bit too rushed and she makes sure that all the loose ends are neatly tied up (something I felt that was not necessary when there is such an ensemble cast of characters).
I should also say that I am not against sweet, sentimental novels. I have enjoyed previous novels written by Maeve Binchy – Tara Road, and Scarlet Feather to name a couple. And these books were really nice stories where the number of characters were less and she had the space to develop them over a number of pages.
Quentins on the other hand seems like an ambitious mish-mash of ideas put together without too much effort.
I just reread this post and wondered whether I am being a bit too harsh here. I almost decided not to publish it, and then thought hell! this is my blog and if I don’t like something I am entitled to say so.
What do you think? Have you read this book? Do you think I am being too harsh?