I have been wanting to get my hands on this book since I heard about it back in July but it was sold out everywhere and I was unfortunately too tied up to make a reservation. Finally got it last week, two months after its release here and finished it all in one sitting yesterday.
While the book took me a chapter to get hooked, Sotto’s words were too well-written to be ignored. It’s even lyrical, with large doses of similes and metaphors and alliteration, and I bet if you read it out loud, you might find yourself saying it with perfectly timed beats. But get past the first chapters and the story picks up steam and gets too interesting you wouldn’t want to put it down.
Before Ever After tells the story of Shelley, widowed three years ago, and how on the day she decides to live again, gets the shock of her life when a man who looks exactly like her dead husband shows up on her doorstep, claiming to be his grandson. After that, it becomes a whirlwind of Shelley’s recollection of how she signed up for one of Max’s guided tours across Europe and how at each stop, he would tell a particular historical event but through a personal point of view.
The book gets lots of brownie points for me for being well-researched; after all, once you get pass the flowery words, it’s the story that has to draw you in and in this Sotto has succeeded as well. Her description of Europe, peppered with identifiable landmarks and events interspersed with Max’s stories were so seamlessly integrated you could actually believe Max’s stories.
One other thing that I must commend her is for creating a remarkable central character –> I just adore Max, even as he left Shelley just like that. Each of his reincarnations add one more layer of complexity to his personality and he couldn’t have been more perfect, yet flawed, in the end. I can’t say the same of Shelley though. She seems somewhat one-dimensional and relatively dismissible. I particularly can’t understand why she has to faint a lot of times; fainting is too 19th century and doesn’t really suit the heroine of the novel.
Sotto herself said that she was inspired by the Time Traveler’s Wife; I must say that while both deal with a love story between an ordinary woman and an extraordinary man, the similarity ends there. Before Ever After is better written, researched and intriguing though I must give points to the Time Traveler’s Wife for having a well-balanced pair of lead characters.
There’s also one underlying theme to the book which I found all too similar to a favourite book of mine: that of the family tree in Isabelle’s tomb which shows all the descendants of Max’s family and how he had been watching them throughout the centuries, stepping in to provide help and guidance when they are in need. This is too closely similar to the story of Maharet and the Great Family in Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned; it too has a family tree hidden in a house in Sonoma, with Maharet being her family’s guardian, benefactor, and historian throughout the millennia. Then I read that one of Sotto’s favourite writers is Anne Rice and that explains the similarity.
Needless to say, this book had me reaching for my Kleenex from the middle til the end, and I had to fight the urge to google the places and events she wrote about after I finished reading it at 2am this morning.
And I can’t wait for her next book.