29 July 2009

Book Review: In The Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde

In The Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde

JT Maroney is an experienced river guide who takes boats up and down the Grand Canyon. This is to be his 125th trip and he's looking forward to the journey with his fellow guides, Dixie and Abo. But JT has no idea of what lies ahead.

Among his guests are Ruth and Lloyd, veterans at the Canyon but now carrying a big burden, Amy and her mother Susan who are trying to get close despite the growing gap between them, Jill and Mark Compson and their two sons, hoping to enjoy a family holiday, Mitchell and Lena, another couple with their own issues, and two singletons, Peter and Evelyn who are along for the ride. But none of them knows what is about to happen on the ride of a lifetime.

Elisabeth Hyde first came to public attention when her novel The Abortionist's Daughter was chosen as one of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads, and it was a book which I very much enjoyed. This book, with its location in the Grand Canyon is something of a departure. I'm not a fan of boating or river trips, so it's down to Hyde's superb writing talents that I loved this book so much. Although there is a fair amount in the book about the art of sailing and the technical side of things, she also focusses on the changing relationships and these are what interested me the most. JT is the leading character, the eldest guide and most responsible of the group. He knows that if he slips up, someone dies. I liked his character; he's very real and a complex personality mixing well with whomever was in the scene with him. He's well-balanced by Ruth and Lloyd, the sailing veterans with a terrible secret - they were so devoted and so in love despite everything and the story between them was very touching.

At the beginning of the book there's a list of characters, and initially I worried about how well I would be able to follow a book with so many big personalities. However, once you get to know them and who they are, it was easy and Hyde has made them all so different that you can't really muddle them up. It is handy to have that list to refer back to whilst you are getting into the book, but trust me, you won't need it for long!

With so many characters to follow, Hyde has written in the third person and her narrative style is easy to read and flows well. She switches between characters seamlessly and effortlessly. Rather than chapters, the book is defined by which day of the trip it is, and which mile stage they are at, which gives the viewer an idea of river-boating and the guests' experience.

One thing I really appreciated in the book was the use of extracts from Amy's diary. It didn't appear at the end of every chapter, just every few but it was an interesting insight into the mind of the youngest girl on the trip, and at times was quite hard to read. Amy is very obese and has self-esteem issues which come across strongly in the diary entries. They're the voice of Amy speaking to us, and it's the only time we really hear from the heart of any of the people in the book. Despite this, I felt as though I knew each of them well and by the end, I was sad to finish and let go of the book.

This book was a fantastic read, and I did struggle to put it down of an evening because I wanted to find out the next twist in the tale as soon as I could! Each of the characters were likeable and stood out in their own ways, and the story that linked them all was woven easily and brilliantly by Hyde. It's clear she's done her research when it comes to the Grand Canyon rivers and boating because she writes with such conviction and understanding of the whole experience, and this makes it more enjoyable for the reader. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for either the outdoors or boating I loved this book and can't recomend it highly enough. A joy to read.

Rating: 5/5

Note: This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

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