The Raven's Head

The Raven's Head - Karen Maitland

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

The theme of this story was interesting enough, but unfortunately, I never felt it grab me, and found myself at times not really caring whether I was keeping on reading, or taking a break to read something else.

The descriptions and atmosphere were vivid enough. This isn't glamourised historical fiction: when people pee in the street, they do, and when they're in a ghastly environment, they are. The author's writing made it fairly easy to picture the characters' surroundings and their lives—the sinister manor, Gisa's daily drudgery, the boys trembling in fear at night at the abbey, expecting to be seized never to return...

However, the characters themselves didn't leave me with a lasting impression. I liked how they were portrayed with their imperfections (Vincent especially: he started with justifying his bad actions as if they were logical, and I must say I quite enjoy such characters, bordering on sociopathic in their way of seeing the world while being the heroes of their own story). But only a few hours after finishing this novel, I'm already not exactly sure anymore of what they did, nor of what the plot tried to achieve. It took some time to get there, and mostly the protagonists were too passive, with things happening around them, or to them, without prompting a strong enough reaction. Gisa's passivity was all the more infuriating that she tried to help someone, but so slowly that her repeated thoughts of "wanting to save that person" felt fake (and a mere plot twist to lead to the decisions she made later).

In fact, the characters were here mostly to make the plot happen without giving vibes of being real people, with lives of their own. Their background stories looked interesting, but remained just that: in the background. All that was very weird, because the chapters were short, yet seemed to drag at the same time.

I also didn't get—still don't—the necessity for a switch between the first person and third person, complete with present tense. I have no idea why this kind of style keeps popping in novels more and more, and I wish I could see its point, because so far, it's been more jarring than anything else. It didn't achieve anything for me, didn't give me a sense of immediacy, and only made me keep wondering "wait, why are we doing that again"? Which in turn kept breaking my reading stride.

Not an infuriating book, but one that I'll proceed to quickly forget