Book Review: Pursued by Lynn Gardner

As I have mentioned before, it's not easy or cheap for me to get my hands on LDS fiction, so when I buy a book I choose carefully. I bought Pursued because Lynn is a friend and fellow V-Formation blogger, but also because it is set here in the UK so I thought it might be interesting.

Lynn must have either spent a long time travelling round the Cotswolds, or done exhaustive research, because the descriptions are spot on. I've never been to Wells cathedral, but I have been to several others, and she does a great job of conjuring up the gothic architecture and rarefied atmosphere. Her characters are also well constructed, from the tenacious, slightly manic Maggie, to easy-going Rolf who is obviously just along for the ride. What Maggie goes through in the course of the book -not wanting to give any plot spoilers, but the least of her shocks is discovering that her long-lost brother is a terrorist about to blow up half the world - made me very glad she had a tame psychologist in tow. The drama starts on the very first page and it doesn't let up.

Unfortunately, two things spoilt the experience for me. First, while I am generally happy to suspend disbelief in the interests of entertainment, this book was just a little too implausible for my tastes, with rather too many amazing coincidences and bizarre occurrences.
The second problem is one of the cultural setting. I think it's very brave of Lynn - and indeed any writer - to set a novel in a country they haven't lived in or perhaps even visited, because when it is read by natives of that country, one little mistake can wreck a carefully built illusion and interrupt the flow of the story.
To cite an example, I recently read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. All the elegance and romance of the original, with added violent zombie mayhem. During one scene, the Bennett sisters are making their way to Meryton when they are startled by a sound they suspect might be "unmentionables" (zombies). But Lydia is able to reassure them when it turns out to be nothing more than a chipmunk. And so they continue on their way.
Hang on a minute. A chipmunk? In nineteenth-century England? Zombies crowding round Netherfield I'm prepared to accept, but chipmunks are just a step too far.

Similarly there were some little cultural mistakes I was prepared to ignore in Lynn's book, especially, as I have said, given the staggering amount of research she has done. These included the use of the verb "to visit" in the American sense, and the fact that both Arthur the butler and Grandfather Rathford own handguns. Handguns have been illegal here since 1996, with the penalty for owning one a ten-year prison sentence. But then, the guns were crucial to the plot, so I could overlook the criminal tendencies of an English country gent and his faithful butler.
One issue on page 115, however, actually stopped me in my tracks as I read and, like the chipmunk in Meryton, made the entire book lose credibility for me. More than that, it made me upset and, dare I say it, a little angry.
In the passage in question, Damon Rathford, who is British, is discussing his father's health problems, and says, "It's his gallbladder. He's scheduled for surgery in two months, but with our socialized medicine, the waiting time can kill the patient."
So first off, what is "socialised medicine"? I asked several friends and no one knew. All they know is that we pay our taxes and from that money we get libraries, schools, a police force, roads, doctors, hospitals, medicinal care, parks, and a great many other things which we don't consider to be "socialised". It's not a term we ever use, any more than Americans are likely to complain, "Because we have socialised education, a lot of our young people are illiterate."

Secondly, it just isn't true. The National Health Service operates on a triage system, and although there are waiting lists for non-urgent procedures such as hip replacements and bunion removal, anyone with a life-threatening problem has no wait at all. If Damon's father was truly likely to die imminently, he would be in hospital scheduled for surgery within hours. I know this from experience - my mother had gallbladder surgery, with no wait. I have never heard anyone British say a bad word about the NHS, and Damon Rathford lost all believability as a character from that point on.

Of course, Lynn has no need to worry about this. Her book will sell well, and those who like romantic thrillers (and there are plenty of them) will love it. Because it is so difficult to buy LDS fiction in the UK, very few British people are likely to read, and be offended by, that particular line. While that may be comforting to Lynn, it isn't to me, because lots of Americans will read it at face value, and may even believe it. I don't feel that an LDS fiction novel is the right place for political propaganda.

So if anyone reading this out there wants to write a novel set in the UK but has the slight handicap of never having been here, send me your manuscript! I can ensure that you don't have alien vegetables such as rutabagas or acorn squash in the larder (as in Josi Kilpack's English Trifle) and that British characters don't make outrageous, scandalous, false and unpatriotic statements about our wonderful NHS.

Comments

  1. Wow! I'm glad I checked with you about my Welsh family in High Stakes. I think I picked your brain a bit for Bracelet too. I've never been to England, but I'd really like to visit there. Isn't it funny how with so many similarities between our countries, we just go ahead and assume everything is the same?

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