13 August 2014

Book Review: The Atlas of Us by Tracy Buchanan

"How far would you go for the one you love the most?

When Louise Fenton flies to Thailand to find her mother, Nora, after the Boxing Day tsunami, she fears the worst when the only trace she can find is her mother’s distinctive bag. In the bag is a beautifully crafted atlas owned by travel journalist Claire Shreve, with her notes and mementos slipped in-between the pages. The journal tells the story of Claire’s struggle to find her place in the world following a life-altering revelation, and a tumultuous love affair.

Louise treks across Thailand's scarred landscape, exploring Claire’s atlas to try to make sense of the connection between this woman and the mother she is so desperate to find.

As devastated people are beginning to put their lives back together, Louise uncovers the secrets that nearly destroyed Claire and the man she loved – the same secrets her mother has been guarding all these years …"

Rating: 3.5/5

You can buy The Atlas of Us as a paperback or an eBook now.

I first saw this book when I noticed it on Netgalley, a site where you can get advanced reading copies of books for review. It was the cover which caught my eye, it was really beautiful and made me want to find out more about the book. When I read the blurb and found out it was about the Tsunami in Thailand of 2004, I was even more intrigued to read it, curious about how the writer would handle a fictional story set around something very real and poignant, and something I remember so well too. I don't think a lot of people will ever forget the pictures and news reports about the event, so I opened the book eager to begin.

Louise Fenton is horrified when she sees that there has been a tsunami in Thailand on Boxing Day morning, the very place where her mother is currently staying. She immediately heads over to Thailand, determined to find her mother and bring her back home. She manages to find her mother's bag, but inside is a big book, an atlas of sorts, that she has never seen before. It belongs to another woman Louise hasn't heard of, a journalist called Claire Shreve. Louise tries to piece together the things inside the book to find out more about Claire, whilst looking for her mother in a completely destroyed Thailand. Louise is determined to piece together how Claire knew her mothers, and the secrets that lie between the pages of the atlas...

When I began the book, I fell in love with the story of Louise, jetting off to Thailand to search for her mother. Those scenes were written so brilliantly, the desperation, grief, sorrow, panic came across so well from the offset that you could not help but feel and sympathise with Louise's plight. Yes, she and her mother may not have been on the best of terms, but in this situation you just can't comprehend what the relatives and loved ones of those missing are going through. Buchanan described perfectly the ravaged country of Thailand, the look, smell, everything about it just lit up in my mind, the sheer horror of it is unimaginable. I was willing Louise to find something to give her hope but when she found her mum's bag, my heart sank.

This discovery led to the other part of the book, the one I did not like so much and wished there was a great deal less of in the book. It tells us the story of Claire Shreve, a journalist who struggles to come to terms with her own infertility and the effect that this has on the rest of her life. She meets Milo by chance on a work assignment, and this sets her life off on a whole new path. She gets to know his family, including his niece Holly, and this was when I struggled to engage with the book. I didn't like Claire at all - I can't really put my finger on why but I wasn't connected to her story at all, didn't care for what she was going through, and I didn't warm to Milo either. It seemed so unconnected with the main story of Louise and her struggle in Thailand, I was almost ready to give up at one point.

As the connections between the two became clearer, I decided to persevere because I really wanted to see how it was going to end. However, by this point I really was not enjoying the book and wished instead it was based entirely around Louise and her story, which was far better for me. The book had some lovely locations thanks to Claire's story, including Serbia, Dubai, Finland, Australia and more - these places were written very well, Buchanan's descriptive writing is fantastic, you can clearly visualise these things in your mind but I just wasn't taken by the story that happens inside these places. I was just constantly waiting to get back to Louise and her friend Sam in Thailand, rather than plodding on to find out the connection between Nora and Claire.

It was a well written book, don't get me wrong. However, I wish it had focused on what the blurb had promised me - a book set around a woman looking for her mother in the aftermath of one of the most awful natural disaster's of our time. I loved Louise's story, felt it was so well written, from the scenes in Thailand, describing the ravages of what the wave has left behind to her relationship at home with her husband and daughters. Buchanan's writing was very easy to read, I loved her vivid descriptions, the way she wrote emotion into the book with ease, and the main plot. For me, though, the side plot of Claire's story, which was probably around 75% of the book by the end was just not for me, I just didn't have much of an interest for it and I found it hard going at times. I am looking forward to reading more from Tracy Buchanan in the future, and this was a solid debut novel that I did enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the author's descriptions are really vivid, aren't they, you can tell she loves to travel. You are almost there with her. Thanks for a great review!