Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Penguin Press via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).
Review: My feelings about this book aren’t entirely clear. My immediate interest lay in my love for Monterey. I was born in Seaside (technically Fort Ord Army hospital) and went home with my mother to Santa Cruz just across the bay (her hometown). At various points in my early childhood, I lived in Santa Cruz and Monterey, and even after we left, my extended family was there. And then when my parents divorced, my dad moved to Gilroy, which made day trips easy. The point being, I spent a lot of time in Monterey and have very vivid memories of it. The smell of eucalyptus on the drive in, the amazing days playing at Dennis the Menace park (mentioned in the book), waking up early in the morning to walk the beach with my dad and finding half-eaten seals washed ashore (sounds gruesome, but to a curious 5 year old, it was awesome!), gathering up seaweed and popping the floats, beach days with picnic lunches at Morro Bay, and the ice plants that even now ARE Monterey to me. Never mind the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium that I’ve visited more times than I can count. Monterey and Santa Cruz are a part of my soul, they are an essential part of my definition of home. Having lived most of my life within two hours of this magnificent region, not being able to visit with ease has been one of my very few regrets about moving to the East Coast. It is fair to say there are few, if any, places that I cherish more than Monterey Bay.
So, I guess I was hoping to feel a connection through this book, looking forward to losing myself in a representation of Monterey that matched my own. But that didn’t happen. Not a fault of the writer, but that of my expectations. The truth of that does nothing to minimize my disappointment.
The writing was fine, no complaints. The feelings and state of mind of the main character I found to be rather confusing and off-putting. It would be ok that I didn’t particularly like her if I could at least understand her, or really, the point of any of it. No doubt, her life was different (and some parts tragic), though I didn’t find it to be particularly interesting. Truly, it was rather depressing. It seems like Margot was broken from the start and though she made a success of her life in terms of accomplishment, even at 73 she isn’t really happy. It felt like her whole life was gray, which I suppose is somewhat appropriate given the number of overcast days in Monterey, but still.
Another point of interest is this is historical fiction, which I tend to enjoy, but not so much in this case, probably because I know the area rather well and for some reason I’m having a hard time with the liberties taken. Usually I’m reading historical fiction that takes place in a location or era of which I have little experience or knowledge, so I don’t know what is different (and therefore it can’t bother me). Reading historical fiction that is located somewhere that I feel deeply connected to and having some of the details changed or having it depicted in a way that doesn’t mesh with my own feelings…well, it’s kind of like when they make a movie adaptation of your favorite book, but they change things that mattered to you. Know what I’m sayin’?
And one last little point of irritation, I swear if I ever hear or read the word styela ever again, I might scream. I love going to the aquarium, but I am not obsessed with the minute details. Of course, I understand that this story revolves around the beginnings of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and that Margot is tasked with drawing specimens for Ricketts, but beyond drawing them and killing them (another thing that is probably part of the hard truth of marine biology, but which thoroughly bothered me), I didn’t gather she had any actual interest in marine life, so I don’t understand the need for all the descriptions of the sea life, which I found boring.
In a nutshell, the writing was fine, but the story was not for me, mostly likely for personal reasons. The background didn’t match my own experience, the mood was gloomy and depressing. It was a slog, honestly. I gave it a C- because the writing was well done, and because I think if I came back to it for a re-read later, my expectations more rightly set, there is a chance that I would find something more redeemable than in the first read.
Not a book I can recommend, but I understand it might have appeal for the right audience.
As usual, once written out, my feelings about the book are much more clear than originally thought. I only wish I felt differently. :/