I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What I’m Reading: The Fifth Heart

Back in the spring I read The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons.

Becky's Soundbite Review:
What if on a dark night, on the banks of the Seine river, in 1893, Henry James was prevented from killing himself by the one and only Sherlock Homes [who himself if having a bit of an identity crisis]. So begins the meta mystery investigation in which the very real author and the possibly real Holmes team up to solve the mystery surrounding the death of James' good friend Clover Adams back in Washington, DC. Much like Simmons' Drood, this is a methodically paced, dark tale, filled with intrigue, historical detail and Holmes oeuvre references. This is the perfect read for historical fiction fans, those who love books about books, and Holmes aficionado's alike.
This novel was very much like Drood [click for full review]. Like Drood, the Fifth Heart is methodically paced. This is a long book with lots of detail, and a plot that takes it's time coming together.  But in these novels, the plot is not as important as following the literary characters and becoming immersed in their world. So methodical is what Simmons is going for and what readers expect.

For example, there is a very long scene about 1/3 of the way into the book where Holmes and James are inside the monument that Adams has erected for his wife's grave. It is long and detailed, but so interesting. It was my favorite scene in the entire book. It has a little bit to do with the plot, but it is in the story to set the mood, tone, and establish very important things about those three characters. There are also long dinner scenes told in full detail from the food, to the clothing of the guests, to the conversation. Again, not all important to the plot, but all integral to establishing the setting and deepening the characters.

Now, I listened to Drood, so the parts that "dragged" didn't bother me. I read this novel in print, so I noticed the dragging parts more. I think I prefer Simmons in audio because in that format I can more easily get immersed by the world he is creating and I fall deeply inside, loving every minute of it.

I also adored how in the novel, Holmes is working on the Clover Adams case AND a case of International importance all while questioning if he is a real person or a fictional construction. And pairing him with the super serious James makes for quite an odd team.  That being said, while this is a fun narrative choice and leads to some "wink-wink" humor, Simmons is NOT writing a parody. Rather, this is an authentic and historical representation of time, place and people (whether they are real historical figures or fictional characters).

Fans of books about books will love how "meta" this novel is, while fans of more traditional, big, historical novels will enjoy how much they learn. For me, it is been well documented on this blog that I love the Victorian Era. So for me, the time period was perfect. I also loved how much I learned specifically about Henry and Clover Adams, the early days of the Secret Service, and Sherlock Homes as a person-- I know that was made up, but it was still fun. I really liked the scenes when characters who were fans of Holmes were totally geeking out talking to the man himself. So very cool.

Finally, although I have not seen any reviewers mention this, I found The Fifth Heart to be the best explanation I have ever seen as to how the eternally serious and boring Henry James could have written a psychological suspense masterpiece like The Turn of the Screw. Trust me, this is a quandary I have been thinking about and writing about since 10th grade, and while this explanation here in The Fifth Heart is obviously not correct I am going with it.

If you have access to Novelist. I have written a long Read Alike article for Dan Simmons. Just search his name and choose "Lists and Articles."

Three Words That Describe This Book: books about books, alternative history, methodically paced

Readalikes: Many readers will want to read more about, by or featuring the characters in this novel. So try anything featuring Holmes and/or books by or about James or Adams.

If you like this time period and the darker undertones here, watch The Knick. I love this show and have written about the first season and offered readalikes here. It covers many of the same issues and themes found in The Fifth Heart but from a medical, instead of literary and government, perspective.

But for books that are also methodically paced, dark, and literary try a few of these. Links go to my reviews where appropriate and I have noted those that are also historical (because that may matter to some readers):

No comments: