Friday, 10 June 2016

Review: Ross Poldark, Winston Graham

Alright, I only read this one because there were a lot of screen-grabs of a rather dashing fellow in hitstorical costume littering up my Twitter feed about a year ago, and I was interested to see what all the fuss was about. Also, it was very cheap in a charity shop.

So, okay. Anyway. I wasn't impressed.

 Ross Poldark is a novel that needs to fall out of love with its main character and decide exactly what it's trying to do. It gives the impression of trying to be one of those wonderfully sprawling 18th/19th C novels that charts the fortune of a region and family over the years and it did kinda grab that mood from time to time. It's just, having grabbed it, itwould veer into rather po-faced social commentary which was just starting to hot up into something interesting when we'd careen the other direction, ending up in what can only be described as a sentimental romance. You'd just begin to get invested in that when you'd  find yourself in the middle of the misadventures of a drunken yokel, something which was probably intended as comic relief, but - in light of the aforementioned social commentary - felt a little more like punching down.

If you managed to keep your balance, you begin to suspect all this white knuckle motion is to stop you taking a real measure of Ross, who is not so much unlikeable as irrelevant. While some of the other characters really sparkled off the page - Demelza may be a manic pixie, but she's a charming one, and George Warleggen hovered in the background with insalubrious intent - Ross himself thunked about the novel without any real sense complexity. We were fed facts about him but they felt like very deliberate cues for our emotional response rather than actual character depth: he's 'likeable but troubled' because he reads a lot and drinks too much; he's a 'real man, but a good one' because he… sleeps with sex workers and doesn't much enjoy it?

Hang on. What?

I don't know. Worse still, these shorthands weren't really borne out by his actions. Of course, we get the impression his erratic behaviour was caused by depression following Elizabeth chucking him over, but we never really got a decent picture of his affection for her to begin with. They felt like desperate grabs at reader attention and sympathy, trying to get us to forget that Ross repeatedly behaves like a dick-without-a-cause.

Yet, for all its flaws, I did enjoy reading it (once I got past the disorientation of the wildly uneven tone). No, nothing about it convinces, and yes, it is a bit jarring and directionless, but it isn't actually terrible. The writing is unobtrusive, and there is enough interest to be found in each of the plot strands to keep you reading - if not actually hooked.

On balance, though, I'm probably not going to bother with the sequels.

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