“What if our homes could tell the stories of others who lived there before us? Set in a small village near Paris, The Balcony follows the inhabitants of a single estate-including a manor and a servants’ cottage-over the course of several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters. A young American au pair develops a crush on her brilliant employer. An ex-courtesan shocks the servants, a Jewish couple in hiding from the Gestapo attract the curiosity of the neighbors, and a housewife begins an affair while renovating her downstairs. Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and persecuted, all of these people are seeking something: meaning, love, a new beginning, or merely survival.
Throughout, cross-generational connections and troubled legacies haunt the same spaces, so that the rose garden, the forest pond, and the balcony off the manor’s third floor bedroom become silent witnesses to a century of human drama.
In her debut, Jane Delury writes with masterful economy and profound wisdom about growing up, growing old, marriage, infidelity, motherhood – in other words, about life – weaving a gorgeous tapestry of relationships, life-altering choices, and fleeting moments across the frame of the twentieth century. A sumptuous narrative of place that burrows deep into individual lives to reveal hidden regrets, resentments, and desires, The Balcony is brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.”
My Thoughts: Reading through the synopsis again makes me question exactly what book I read because it doesn’t sound like the one I read and the synopsis for it are the same book. For one thing, the book is anything but linear. So the whole “over the course of several generations” thing is a bit misleading. It does cross generations, but you have to figure out to what era you have jumped from section to section. We start out near present-day and then shift back in time and then forward, and then back again. There are references to World War II that provide somewhat of an anchor but only slightly. Often, it is not until a particular section is almost over before you connect the events occurring or characters in one section with a previous one. So while the setting never changes, the stories are only loosely connected. The shifts in time as well as seemingly unrelated characters make this feel more like short stories rather than one particular novel.
To muddle things even more, the stories are not exciting. There is no lesson to learn, no mystery to solve. These stories are about life. Some may be a bit more interesting than others, but they all progress with a placidity that causes your interest to wane. It is not that the writing is poor. If anything, the writing is such that it tries too hard to make something out of nothing. For example, in one section, there is much made of a mother taking black market goods and burying them. Given the vividness of this scene, one expects these goods to become a big deal in a later section. Alas, the only thing we learn about these goods is how fifty years later a construction worker doing improvements to the estate discovered them, rusted and desiccated beyond appeal. There are many other examples of anti-climax like this to which your only response is literally “meh.”.
Granted, this could all be me and my impatience at the lack of connection and at the slowness of each section. It could be me struggling once again to recognize the value of literary fiction. It could even be me expecting too much from this loose collection of short stories. However, I think not. I do believe the bare bones for a decent story exist within the pages of The Balcony, but the execution leaves much for improvement..
“Rain Thomas is a mess. Seven years an addict and three difficult years clean. Racked by guilt for the baby she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen. Still grieving for the boy’s father who died in Iraq. Alone, discarded by her family, with only the damaged members of her narcotics anonymous meetings as friends. Them, and the voices in her head.
One morning, on the way to a much-needed job interview, she borrows reading glasses to review her resume. There is a small crack in one lens and through that damaged slice of glass she sees a young boy go running down the aisle of the subway train. Is he screaming with laughter or just screaming? When she tries to find the boy, he’s gone and no one has seen him.
The day spins out of control. Rain loses whole chunks of time. She has no idea where her days went. The voices she hears are telling her horrible things. And even stranger things are happening. Unsure whether she is going insane, Rain sets out to find answers to long buried questions about an earlier life she has avoided for years—in what may be the most dangerous collision of all, that between reality and nightmare.
How far will one person go to save someone they love?
Read on at your own peril…”
My Thoughts: In yet another example of a disappointing read, I was hoping to be blown away by this idea of an alternate reality viewed through broken lenses. Instead, I was not so much blown away as breathed on. The premise is a bit like NOS4A2 with an alternate reality where bad things happen. Glimpse is darker with its abuse, drug use, and despair. So much despair. Yet, while I enjoyed the novel and was spooked at times, I never fell into the story. I was always one step removed from it. There was nothing to connect me to Rain. She is sympathetic but not empathetic. I could not place myself into her shoes; there is too much of her life to which she only references in passing and in the most generic of terms making it difficult to understand her motivations and experiences. Without that connection, everything that happens to her becomes like a movie, where you know exactly where you are and how much time is passing as you watch.
Also, there is too little character development or at least character backstory to explain why Rain’s connections become vital to her future success in beating the big bad. I know a story about alternate realities is fantastical enough already, so this should not be that big of a deal. Yet, for me, it is. There is an element of suspension of disbelief required, and it isn’t about the bad guys or the nightmares haunting her.
So, while Glimpse is not a bad story, it is not one that kept me engaged, engrossed, or entertained. I found myself reading it for the sake of reading it with no care about Rain or her fate. I was not particularly scared, horrified, or even a bit on edge. It was a disappointing novel that I would have been better skipping.