Monday, August 23, 2010
Claire de Lune
Author: Christine Johnson
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reviewing debut novels can be very difficult. On the one hand, there is an impulse to encourage promising talent and praise fresh perspectives. On the other hand, in all areas of life, newbies make mistakes. A lot of first books struggle with the author's inexperience and stylistic flaws, and the reviewer has a responsibility to be honest both to his reader and the author. So I must regretfully report that Claire de Lune is not a good read. In fact- although it pains me to say this- this is a book that does nearly nothing right.
In the world of Claire de Lune, the existence of werewolves is common knowledge. Unfortunately, most of them stay in the shadows- which means humanity's interaction with them is confined to murders perpetrated by rogues. Our heroine Claire has just celebrated her sixteenth birthday with a pool party, a date with a hot boy, and a world-shattering revelation from her mother. Claire's mother Marie is a werewolf, as is Claire herself. And that nasty itching all over Claire's body? She's going to be sprouting fur very soon. Adding to that little problem, there's a rogue werewolf on a killing spree in the town. And the man leading the hunt for her is none other than her new boyfriend's dad.
This book is classified under the nebulous heading of "Drama" because I honestly didn't know where else to put it. There are multiple plots- Claire's learning to understand and accept lycanthropy, the murder mystery, the Claire/Matthew romance, and Claire's difficult relationship with her mother. And yes, they do all weave together by the end, as a good plot should. But none of them stands out or generates any interest. The first serves mainly as a vehicle for exposition. The second is a non-starter- as a new lycanthrope and a girl of sixteen, Claire can't do anything about a killer on the loose until the crisis comes home. And the last two are torpedoed by dull and lifeless characters.
In fact, if I had to pick out Claire de Lune's most serious flaw, it would be exactly that. The entire cast is unrealistically developed when they're not underdeveloped. Claire is a bland protagonist who spends most of the novel trying to juggle her social life with her new lycanthropic responsibilities. Matthew is a cardboard cutout who plays soccer, kisses good, and hates his dad. Marie is probably the worst victim. She doesn't seem to be intended as a horrible mother, but that's how she comes off. Not the kind of self-centered horrible that we saw in Shiver, either. Marie actually seems to put effort into being apathetic about her daughter. After the crucial mother-daughter talk early in the novel Claire goes right into crying mode. (Skipping the usual denial/skepticism phase, but that's another problem.) Marie's response is to essentially say "Well, you'll deal with it." and drag her off into the woods to meet the pack.
This is not an isolated incident. At some point in this book, nearly everyone moves the plot forward by either getting angry and acting out-of-character, or doing something stupid. Claire lets her mother go off into a dangerous situation purely because she can't figure out a way to warn her effectively. Claire saves Matthew's life, and he reacts by going emo over how she hasn't been honest with him. Lisbeth spends the entire novel being the supportive big sister, then suddenly starts angrily berating Claire for not keeping her in the loop anymore. (That last one kinda makes sense in context, but not in light of later revelations.)
The worst thing about it all is that the underlying story isn't too bad. It's drowning in flat dialog, poor characterization, and slightly stilted plotting, but it's at least the skeleton of a good story. The mystery of the killer's identity is an especially clever bit. The author leads us on down one path for most of the novel, and then pulls a switcheroo at the last minute. It could have been a surprising twist that redefines what we knew about the characters. But as played in the book, it falls completely flat. Claire and Matthew's relationship has vague echoes of good romance- if they had been better defined as characters, that would have given us readability at the very least.
Claire de Lune is a bad read, but it didn't have to be. It's rough and clumsy, but that doesn't necessarily define a bad story- it can also indicate a first draft. And indeed there's nothing wrong here that a few more revisions couldn't fix. Why it was published in such an incomplete state, I can't speculate. Whatever the cause, what we have here a half-baked shell of a novel. I sympathize, but my sympathies don't make the book any good. Claire de Lune is a huge waste of time for all concerned, including the author and the reader.