A darkly imagined Cinderella retelling... but I was so, so bored, confused by its purpose, and ultimately bothered by the lack of female agency.
Sense of urgency: ★
Oh boy, I do not want to write this review. It's always hard when you expected to love a book and then...you really, really don't.
The Shadow in the Glass follows Ella, the protagonist, as she works as a housemaid in the Pembroke's manor home where she used to grow up as a cherished ward. But then Mrs. Pembroke died, and everything changed. Mr. Pembroke's money dwindled and Ella transformed from reluctant ward to hired help.
Now a housemaid in a dark, dim manor where the female maids leave one by one in disgrace when Mr. Pembroke...tarnishes them....(spoiler: (view spoiler)), Ella is running out of options and hope.
But then in a mysterious book in the library, Ella summons a woman with black eyes. The woman says she can grant Ella 7 wishes in exchange for her soul.
Ella, being the kind of stupid that the plot needed her to be, says yes without thinking it through. It's only a matter of time before Mr. Pembroke turns his eye on Ella—and to Ella's worry, on the even younger Aoife—and Ella feels this is her only choice.
So then some wishes happen, Mr. Pembroke happens, Mr. Pembroke's son arrives on the scene with interesting results, and...yeah.
I had three large issues with this story.
I'm verging into pseudo-spoiler territory to discuss them, so consider yourself warned!
1.) This plot was so transparent and boring to have to sit through. From the get-go, we know the set up. Mr. Pembroke is a sexual predator in their home, Ella and the other girls need an out, and Ella takes that out in the form of a deal with the devil for 7 wishes. This concept was fine, but then it never, not once, adapted or grew into something rewarding. In a frankly bizarre form of storytelling, we as readers had to just sit through that plot with no growth, no surprises, no stakes, no intrigue. That is what happens, with the additions of some side characters doing unimportant things. I needed adaptability? Intrigue? Something to surprise me into being interested? Because I wasn't interested, at all, after the setup finished and things just stagnated with more and more of the same.
2.) Ella was not a strong enough character to fill this story. Given the issues of the first point above, I would have been satisfied if Ella was a strong character on the page. I would have been invested in Ella for Ella's sake, and that would have been fine. But I didn't care about Ella. There was something distanced about how she was written, and her stupidity in her choices and the plot holes left around her character's childhood and placement in this world just left me irritated with her and confused.
3.) The discussion of female agency and the historic predation of women was just...not handled to my satisfaction. I know that this novel did not set out to be a feminist retelling, or even contain female-agency themes. But my lingering feelings after reading this novel were sour when it came to the female representation and agency. Mr. Pembroke violates girl after girl in an abuse of his power and place in society. His son's plotline with Ella was essentially a socially-acceptable version of that abuse of power, in a supposedly "romantic" way. Again, I realize that this novel didn't set out to do anything with these historically accurate concepts, but at the same time this was a fantasy with a female demon and a girl who bargained for 7 wishes to literally escape that kind of predation and then...the plot went in different ways for a majority of the time.
I don't know, folks, this was clearly not for me. On to the next!
CARRY THE DOG - Stephanie Gangi
Beautifully written, evocative and emotionally turbulent... the realities of generational trauma, sense of self, and womanhood collide in this insightful and literary novel.
Sometimes, you read a book and you realize that you're just not...there yet. For me, I think Carry the Dog was conveying messages that I was frankly too young to fully appreciate—I'm a mid-20-something woman, not someone looking back on her life in terms of decades. I'm not there yet, where Bea Seger is at in this novel. But I might be someday, and for that reason I found this novel extremely compelling.
In the 1960s, when Bea was a young child, she and her siblings were photographed in a series of provocative and explosive nude photographs taken by their own mother. They were controversial at the time, and they've remained so up until the present day. But now, museums want to showcase them—and they're talking to Bea about it.
Bea has spent a long time not analyzing those images, or her experiences with them. But should she? And even if she's not willing to self-analyze, would it be worth it for the money?
With those questions circling around her, Bea is also dealing with other elements in her life. Like her complicated relationship with her divorced husband, which is filled with toxicity, subtle and overt betrayals, and issues. Bea's not exactly handled that well internally, either.
But the light is starting to shine on Bea's life, and whether she likes it or not, it's time to look at the pieces around her and locate that inner steel at the core of her womanhood.
Complex? Yes. Beautifully rendered? Also yes. An uplifting and joyful read? Not particularly.
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, I think this book provides more poignancy and support to women and individuals with more life experiences under their belt—I'm not calling anyone "old," y'all, but I am calling myself too young to fully appreciate this novel's bittersweet and lingering resilience.
However, I didn't have to fully understand Bea's struggles and emotional palate to appreciate the raw storytelling skills at play here. The author did a fantastic job at rendering Bea and her journey, and I couldn't help but appreciate that.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.