Review: Yellow Crocus
So I’ve joined a book club. I know, exciting right? No, but it actually is because you do not even know how long I have wanted to be a member of a book club so I’m super delighted. It’s a small club, and it’s ladies I know already which is A Good Thing because oh my goodness am I shy, and I think it’s going to be lovely.
And I have to be super comfortable with you before I’ll offer up my own opinion, speshly if my own opinion is not the same as yours and I’ve read the book club book and….I didn’t love it. I didn’t love it and I’ve been super scared the other ladies did and I didn’t want to show up for the first time and be all ‘yeah, I’m not sure…’
My friend Ang told me on holiday in March that I needed to be less of a mouse and more of a gerbil, and maybe this is a time to practise that but I feared that everybody will sing this books praises and I would be just sat there and smiling and nodding and agreeing when inside I was thinking but what about that one part where – which I am aware is not the point of a book club at all and that I should always put on my big girl pants and OWN MY OPINIONS.
Anyhow, the first meeting was supposed to be tonight – or rather my first meeting; the club has being going a while I think – but it clashes with my Dad’s birthday which is a terrible shame. I was always going to blog about the book before the meeting because figured if I talked about the book here first then I might be brave enough to squeak about how whilst this book was ok, there were others I loved more. As it happens I can just do the blogging and postpone putting on the big girl pants til next time.
The book, because I can tell you’re on tenterhooks waiting, is (was, is?) Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim. Which you already knew because it says it in the post title and there'sa photo of the cover up there so probably not on tenterhooks at all. OH well.
It’s set in America in the 1800’s and is about slave called Mattie who is the wet nurse for a white baby called Elizabeth. The story is their story, told in switching viewpoints, over a period of about 20years and it’s right up my street. Seriously. I did a small happy dance when I read the blurb because this is the kind of thing I love. I mean The Help, The Secret Life of Bees, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Color Purple, TKaM – these are books that I loved and Yellow Crocus looked like it might slip right on in next to them.
But it didn’t. HERE BE SPOILERS BY THE WAY. SPOOOOOOILERS. If you read past here and get spoiled then YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
It’s just…it’s not as good. And you know what, that might just be me. It probably is just me. Sometimes I think I might be hard work because I expect a lot and I go into things with these possibly unrealistically high expectations and then I get all sourpuss when those standards aren’t met.
It’s just, I wanted to love this book, I promise I did and I read it fast – I flew through it. Finished it in an evening really because the setting and the story: that’s all stuff I like, I just wanted there to be more of it. I mean, details, I am all about the details. I want all the ins and outs; I want the deep thoughts; I want to know the colour of the sky and Yellow Crocus was vague.
The story was interesting but it was vague, there weren’t enough of those details I crave to the point that I was confused because it felt somehow childlike; you could have told me the target market was young reader, 8-12, and I wouldn’t have been surprised except that some of the themes were decidedly adult so who was it aimed at, this book. I don’t think it was me. And that sounds catty; I don’t mean to sound catty. I just….I don’t get it. IT COULD HAVE BEEN SO GOOD.
There were too many unanswered questions – I have a lot of questions, I’m sorry – and too much that felt too convenient and too prettily tied up in a ribbon.
And the characters: we’re meant to like Mattie, cos she’s a slave and A Good Person and we’re meant to like Elizabeth cos she loves Mattie and…it really kind of is that shallow, and then the people we’re not supposed to like felt like caricatures and gimme more character development dammit and also, ALSO, there are far too many massive jumps forward in time here and that bugged the ever living hell out of me because I WAS INTERESTED IN THIS STORY and all of the interesting bits were missed out and I know the POV of 2 people over 20years is a lot to cover and this book was short but I FELT CHEATED.
I feel like either it should have been some sweeping Gone With The Wind epic of seven million pages or it should have focussed in on the more important points – oooh, like, Lisbeth’s teenage years.
I wanted more of that please because those years are important years and we jumped from her being 14 to 19 or something all of a sudden and so suddenly she’s gone from child to young adult and we know nothing about who she is or what she’s doing or what she’s about and so we can’t connect or engage and she comes across as a bit of a brat and then she’s suddenly engaged to this dude who once again we don’t know much about except that he’s a dick.
& I think we’re supposed to want her to be with this other guy.
Except you don’t get to know enough about either of these guys to really care much.
& then she (SPOILER) catches this guy she’s engaged to with a slave (and the implication is rape, and we know enough to not need it to be said outright I suppose but it’s sort of skirted around which pissed me off, not because I wanted some gratuitous violent scene but because I feel like the atrocities are important here. This is not a nice story so stop making it nice.) and just like that she’s an abolitionist and NONE OF THIS WAS CONVINCING BECAUSE I KNOW NONE OF THE THINGS I NEED TO KNOW TO BE CONVINCED. Just, no.
Show don’t tell. That’s totally a thing. This book did too much telling and not enough showing.
Show me Elizabeth and what makes her tick and how she really feels about the slaves and about her family and about her peers and show me why. Show me things that she’s seen and felt and experienced. Let me see her parents, let me see these two men. Let me see, actually, some real honest to God interaction between her and anybody, but especially Mattie and her Mother. Show me, please, why I am supposed to buy into this story.
Then there’s the story that runs alongside this one in the book, which has the same issues: Mattie the nurse’s story - her son and husband escaping to (relative) freedom in Ohio and Mattie eventually breaking free and spending weeks travelling to find them and that sounds so fascinating does it not? Fuck that’s a good story. Except it’s kind of ‘Mattie escaped. Mattie was hungry. Mattie slept in the cellars and barns of some kind people. Mattie made it to Ohio’ and I wanted to tear out my hair because the stories here were in the nitty gritty and the nitty gritty was not shared with me. I think it was…it was too nice. You can’t write this kind of book and make it nice. If I want to read a nice book then I’ll read Anne of Green Gables.
But I didn’t hate it. Even though reading that back it sounds like I did. I didn’t. I’m just greedy. Always I want more.