I stumbled across this little book a few months back at a used book store and as soon as I saw it was by Alice Sebold, I knew I needed it. The Lovely Bones has been one of my top favorite books and has a gorgeous movie adaptation so I went into this book wanting to like it and I did. I have seen many negative reviews on this and I do have to say that this book is not one for everyone. In fact, the only reason I think I found this book so intriguing is my fascination of mental illnesses and how it affects a family and my love for Sebold's style of storytelling. However, even for me, this book was definitely one that had me squirm at some parts. Now onto the full review!
From the start, The Almost Moon makes it quite clear that it is going to be a difficult book to digest as the introduction of the character, Helen, is based around the murder of her own sick mother. Sebold makes the instability of the character clear from the start, effectively breaking the bond of familiarity that most readers tend to make with main characters. However, the scene was so written so intensely that despite my own disgust, I was gripped by the story telling to continued reading. It is quite clear that this was written by the author of The Lovely Bones and that raised my hopes that it would be a good novel, and so I marched on.
The story seems to be split into two: one focusing on a development of an innocent young girl in an unhealthy family up to the point that the start of the book, and another relating to the woman's current position in life as she deals with the murder of her own mother. It is the later that most people refer to when criticizing Helen's absurd journey, as she is presented as the main character, however, I found myself relating to and understanding more of the young Helen rather than the grown Helen, to the point where it felt like these were two separate stories. I did not find myself enjoying the older Helen, in fact, I was disgusted by most of her actions, however, the story of her past never failed to interest me as Sebold craftily added in a new consequence of her parents' actions in each stages of development for young Helen. She starts out as a girl that most people can understand and relate to as she is just a child seeking attention from her parents. As the story progresses we start to see the developments of her character as she questions her parent's actions and act as her mother's guard and emotional support from a young age. This also contrasts well with her growing isolation and hostility towards her mother. Despite her own opinions and disagreements she stays with her mother to the end which makes the reader question the reasons for her loyalty.
One of the most discouraging parts of this book is how the older Helen lacks the characteristics that made the younger version likable, such as her courage and loyalty. She acts different from as she did in her past which was the reason why
I find it hard to see that these two stories share the same character. The older Helen seems to have lost the lessons she had learned growing up with her mother and acts as a mirror image of her mother's unstable and cowardly life. The parallels drawn between Helen's relationship with her family and her mother's is supposed to be meaningful and ironic but the lack of development of the Helen's husband and children makes this hard to see clearly.
Overall, I think the basis of The Almost Moon is love. The Almost Moon explores how an unstable individual shows affection towards their family and how in return the family accepts or denies it. The reason why it fails to appeal to the audience is ultimately because of the flat characters. While it is true that the younger version of Helen shows development, the actual main character does not manage to change throughout the story, and the people presented in her journey from her best friend's son to her husband are left unexplored and underdeveloped. Even in the story of her past, her mother's actions start to become predictable while her father's background is neglected making his actions hard to understand.
Despite all this, the reason why this book left such a good impression on me was because of the interesting questions it raises and Sebold's compelling story telling. The Almost Moon serves to question the influence of a parent to a child and the lasting psychological impression it leaves. It presents the idea that a child cannot help but follow in their parents footsteps even with their distaste for it. It also questions the bonds that keeps a child bound to her mother as well as the love and duty a mother cannot ignore even through a mental illness. It touches on the affects of two broken people depending on each other and on how an ignorant community can aggravate the situation. The unfolding of the mystery behind her father's death was also fantastically done which attributes to Sebold's ability to create compelling mysteries and the development of the young girl was delightful to follow. Therefore, although I wouldn't put it in my top list of books, this book was definitely one I would recommend to a more mature audience who has interest in the subjects this book discusses just to discuss the ending of the book.
That being said, if you read it, please tell me what you think of the ending as I would love to hear other people's ideas on the conclusion of the main character's mother and father.
Well then, another review done. I'll see you guys in the next one :D