smoke

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

I was so excited when Doubleday/Random House gave me the opportunity to read this novel with a fascinating premise. 

And I remained excited, dipping in and out of it whenever I could, thinking, "I'm so busy these early days of summer, I don't have enough time to read as much as I'd like!"

And then I realized that while this is somewhat true, I was finding time to read other things, here and there, and then I noticed that to the date I started reading this novel a month ago, and I was only 30% in. 

Finally, it dawned on me that I wasn't reading more simply because I wasn't compelled to. 

I loved the premise of Smoke: a Victorian-era alternate reality where, when a person thinks anything negative or sexual (and the two protagonists are teenage boys) or uncharitable or, really, anything approaching non-purity, their bodies emit Smoke. Thus, everyone knows just how impure you are based on the volume and viscousness of the Smoke you produce. The two boys, fairly early on, discover that maybe not everything they've been taught about Smoke is true. 

As well, I often enjoyed some of the actual words, structure, images Vyleta creates: 

"When he looks outside, he sees an owl sitting on a moon-washed hedge, its eyes fixed on his and ringed by fine light feathers that give its stare a look of callous wonder."

"Charlie arrives early at the headmaster's door, then sets to pacing, up and down the long empty corridor. Dust balls attend him with the solicitude of pets, withdrawing some inches as he draws close, then following in his wake, sometimes as much as a yard. The moment he becomes conscious of this game, the headmaster's door swings open and the fat, rose dome of Trout's head leans into the hallway."

But. I've made the decision today to not finish this novel. Not for one particular reason, but for a few things that just started piling up, weighing me down into listless ambivalence for reading further. Almost all the characters introduced into the story each in turn get their own chapters, or at least snippets, of their POV. This was too much, leaving me less invested in anyone, including the protagonists. Additionally, when the boys are at school and in London, the novelty of the premise kept these portions strong, but as soon as they depart for the holidays to an estate of a distant relative of one of the boys, the plot became incredibly heavy and slow... I've never used the term plodding before, I don't think, but it seems to apply here. 

I do not always provide a review here or on goodreads of a book if I don't finish it, which is how this book ended up, unfortunately. But I've decided to do so here in part because I did read a substantial portion and it was because of my concerns above that I stopped, but also because you're (of course) welcome to take my complaints with a huge grain of salt. I still enjoyed the premise, the beginning, and much of the writing. Some reviewers on goodreads have adored this book, and so perhaps the part in which I became so bogged down that I couldn't continue wasn't an issue for them.