Book: Lake Como
Author: Anita Hughes
Summary: Hallie Elliot has a perfect life. She is an up-and-coming interior designer in one of San Francisco's most sought-after firms and in a relationship with Peter, a brilliant young journalist. But when she stumbles upon Peter and her boss in what seems to be a compromising position, her trust in Peter and their future is shaken. Hallie escapes to Italy's glorious Lake Como to spend time with her half sister, Portia Tesoro, an Italian blue blood dealing with a scandalous estrangement from her cheating husband. Together, they enjoy the charms of Lake Como, and Hallie finds work designing the estate of a reclusive American tech mogul. Just as she is beginning to give in to the attractions of Angus, the estate's handsome, enigmatic caretaker, Hallie uncovers a family secret that upends the truths she's believed about herself and calls into question the new life she's built in Lake Como. - St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
I should warn you that my inner book snob is going to be heavily present in this review. While this isn't the worst book I have ever read, it's certainly a bad one. Hughes, according to the back cover, has a degree in Creative Writing and teaches Creative Writing. I'm flabbergasted at this, as she breaks many of the unspoken rules of writing. I'm of the school where writing should be merely guided, not taught, as there is no right way to write. There are only preferences and basic guidelines so that even if the idea isn't good or well-thought out, at least there is the possibility of it being well-written.
I took a Creative Writing course in college, but took my professor's teachings as advice only since their teachings can be disguised as preferences and that can negatively affect the quality and originality of your own writing. One of his teachings that I do agree with, however, is this: "Show, don't tell." Hughes, in this book, only tells and never shows. This book has no passion, no blood, and nothing to redeem itself to the reader. Ironic, since the book takes place mostly in Italy.
As always, this review will be free from spoilers.
I'm not going to rehash the summary as there's nothing deeper to the plot than what the summary implies. Before I go over what I didn't like, I should go over what the positives of the book are.
The writing, technically, is easy to read and absorb. It's not a hard book to get through so anyone should be able to get through it without issue. It seems Hughes has done basic research at least when it comes to the settings of Lake Como and uptown San Francisco. The settings are easy enough to imagine since, as I've said before, the writing is all telling and no showing. That's all that's good about the book though.
The plot, while unique at first, slowly becomes stereotypical and somewhat contrived. Because everything is telling and not showing, the reader never gets a real, true look into Hallie and the other characters. It's always "Hallie thought about this. Hallie thought about that. Hallie did this. Portia did that." While the main thread of conflict is drawn out properly through the course of the novel, the little conflicts are introduced and solved too quickly. There are literally chapters where a major problem is introduced and resolved within the same chapter.The most unforgivable offense is the treatment of Hallie's relationship with Peter and the conflict around Peter's supposed unfaithfulness. It's drawn out for an okay amount of time, but when the moment is brought to its crisis and the actors must play out their intentions, it's so short and anti-climatic, it's almost insulting. The ending is abrupt and sloppy as well.
I despised all of the constant references to what designer clothes and shoes Hallie and the other characters were wearing. Yes, it's true that brand name dropping helps the reader visualize the type of outfit the character might be wearing, but when it happens four or five times within the same chapter and in almost every chapter, it shows lazy writing to me. Yes, I get it, Hallie lives in the lap of luxury and privilege. I don't care how many Versace dresses she owns or Gucci pumps she wears - just describe an outfit for once!
Hallie is one of the most wooden main characters I've ever read too. She doesn't ever think for herself - everything, all of her decisions are made for her by someone else, whether it's her grandmother, Peter, her boss, or her Italian relatives. She's so hollow that she felt like an actress being told what to do and say and how to feel. Once she learns the big secret about herself, she tries to take more control of her life, but it doesn't feel genuine and it doesn't really work either. There's one moment in particular where she has an argument about her mother with her half-sister and she sounds so selfish and unfair that I disliked her even more. I understand feeling some sense of betrayal and anger at your mother, but to be so stubborn as to never speak to her again after it has previously been shown that she has a healthy relationship with her mother rings false and out of character. The moments where she tries to show actual emotion don't look genuine in any way whatsoever.
I do want to bring attention to one sentence that particularly galled me. One of the characters tells Portia, the half-sister, "You are Aphrodite and Venus rolled into one." Aphrodite and Venus are the exact same goddess. People might try and say that Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty while Venus is the Roman one, but seeing as how the Romans copied the Greek gods, only changing their names and nothing else, this difference doesn't truly exist. I also understand how the choices are more recognizable since people know Aphrodite and Venus in popular culture, but I can reason that by using one or the other in combination with another culture's goddess of love and beauty, the association with Venus or Aphrodite would have led the reader to believe that both references are to goddesses of love and beauty. It's not that hard to do.
Honestly, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone and I wouldn't ever read any of Hughes's other works. I'm more worried about the students she's teaching.
I give Lake Como a D.
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