Book review: The Pelee Project

When I first heard about Jane Christmas’ book, The Pelee Project, I thought it sounded interesting, despite the fact that I had little in common with the author (a twice divorced mother of 3 with a high-stress job – I’m none of the above). As noted in the subtitle, it’s about “one woman’s escape from urban madness.” I checked out the preview on Kobo (one of few that actually let me read the first chapter), decided that it sounded like a good uplifting story, and, failing to find it for e-loan at my library, ended up buying it. It had a number of really good reviews on Goodreads, so I figured it was worth the risk.

Thank goodness it was only $5.

It’s a nice story, but I’m only a third of the way through and I’m already annoyed. When updating Goodreads about my progress, I wrote:

I’m not overly impressed with this book. It’s not very well written (it tries too hard to be funny, there are random big words and unexplained references thrown in) and feels a bit self indulgent. I like the idea, I just find the execution to be sub-par.

Normally, I have no problem with the use of big words. I know a lot of big words and I’m not adverse to looking things up when I don’t know or remember a word. But, I can’t stand inconsistency. For the most part, the author spoke at a consistent level (i.e., she wrote for a specific reading level), but every now and then she’d throw in a big word or a specific reference that felt really out of place and very unnecessary. For example:

Lyle had shone a klieg light on the blind obeisance that city people mistake for sophistication.

I can’t help feeling this this sentence was half a step away from being exactly what it was attacking: mistaken sophistication. A klieg lamp is a powerful light used in filming. Was “spot light” or “bright light” not sophisticated enough for the author? It’s a very specific reference that a lot of people (like myself) wouldn’t understand. If the story had a link to filming, I would appreciate and tolerate the use of the term, but it leaps out of the page like a desperate attempt to sound cool or sophisticated.

As for “obeisance,” it’s essentially reverence, adoration or respect … all perfectly good words that could have been used.

Here’s another shining example of obscure references:

It was as if I was in exile, Pelee was my Elba.

Look up Elba, and you will discover that it is an island in Italy, but unless you add “exile” to the search terms, it may be a while before you find out whow Elba relates to the story and to exile. Elba was where Napoleon was exiled, according to Google. I’m sure I learned this in school, two decades ago, but, as this is the only (so far) mention of Napoleon or any other historic figures, I was confused and had to look it up. Again, it felt like a desperate attempt to sound sophisticated.

It’s not that I have anything against references or words that I don’t know or understand, it’s just that I didn’t feel that these ones (and a few others) fit in the story. They come from out of the blue with no lead-in, tie-in or follow-up. In fact, a lot of the story, so far, feels a lot like I’m missing something. Every now and then, I start to think that the author’s about to make some really deep and meaningful statement, but she just jumps to the next thought. It feels more like a blow by blow account of her life than story of transformation.

So far, she hasn’t told me anything new or special. Her story is full of truths about how hectic life is, how our big-city society values busy-ness, and how magazines and such have made millions selling the idea of the serene and tranquil life everyone is looking for, but she hasn’t yet said anything to make me feel like she’s got something special or different to add to the conversation.

I’m ever hopeful, so I’m going to keep reading, but so far I’m disappointed.

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