Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Shining Space by Ailsa Fabian

Author : Ailsa Fabian
Series : N/A, Standalone
Genre : Memoir/Autobiography
Number of Pages : 220
Publication Date : March 28th, 2014
Publisher : Matador

Rating : 2 out of 5 stars
I received this book as a free copy from NetGalley. These books are given to me as review copies to read and evaluate. I am not obligated to write a review for any of the books I receive, but it is an encouraged practice. I choose which books I review on my blog and on my Goodreads profile. I do not receive monetary compensation for my reviews. My reviews are always honest...I never lie about books. My opinions are my own and may be positive or negative depending on my feelings about a specific piece. Keep in mind, just because I may like or not like a book may not mean that you will feel the same way.

Sometimes it's hard reviewing books. This is one of those times. Because when you read a memoir, even though you're reviewing the book sometimes the author may feel as though you are reviewing their life. I think it needs to be very clearly understood and expected by any author of a memoir that a review of their book needs to be based on what the book provides to the reader, not what it meant to the writer. There is a very, very clear distinction there. Sometimes the story just isn't presented in a way where the reader can truly view things as they feel through the writers eyes. Perhaps this was one of those cases.

I hate giving poor reviews. I don't like feeling like all I'm doing is pointing out what was done wrong, when clearly something had to be done right in order to warrant the book getting published. But I say in my disclaimer that "I never lie about books" and that's the truth. Sometimes I just don't like a book. It can't be helped. It's bound to happen.

A Shining Space: A Daughter's Life is the biography of Sarah Eugenie Fabian, who died suddenly at the age of five, after a fortunate and happy life. It is also the story of a mother's conversion from ignorance and indifference about babies to astonished love and admiration  - and the postponement of a career for a period of full-time parenthood.                                                          - Partial excerpt from Amazon book description

Let me begin by saying that this book was slightly out of my comfort zone to begin with. I don't read a lot of non-fiction; memoirs are something I just started getting interested in last year. But something drew me to this one. I can't even put my finger on what it was.

Right off the bat, you can tell that Ailsa Fabian is an academic. There are a lot of ten-dollar words. The language is somewhat stiff and overly formal. Right away I felt that could become a problem and have a tendency to alienate some readers. I was worried from the beginning that I could be one of them...and to an extent I was.

The stilted wording also affects the emotional draw (or lack thereof) of the narrative. She seems somewhat disconnected. Her descriptions of her relationship with Sarah and her observations of Sarah come off very clinical. Though I realize that she is attempting to bring light to how she first felt upon becoming a mother, I felt it was too much and it made it hard for me to become attached to the book. Descriptions are limited to factual accounts of the day with no emotion. 

Perhaps there truly are some people who need warming up to children. But her experience just felt so incredibly foreign to me. She states that they "gave her no presents" on Sarah's first Christmas. That just seems incredibly odd to me. She later tells of how she took her daughter with her on an impromptu road trip, leaving her alone in their room at a B&B while she went out on a walk. And even further on, lets Sarah wander on the beach and talk to strangers while she "goes for a proper swim". I was utterly confused and flabbergasted. It may be a factor of the times she was living in, but all I could wonder was how could she possibly feel okay with doing these things. Did she live with no fear and complete faith in humanity? Her actions just seemed so very far away from my own abilities that I had difficulty understanding and identifying with her.

Though there are bright spots where you can tell that she truly loved her daughter, overall the book just becomes a list of mundane details with no cohesive movement.  I hung in there because of those bright spots. When they come along, you get a sense of the tender love she truly had for her children. The book needed more of this. She needed to open up more and be less objective in her writing. A memoir needs that subjective approach to have feeling. And it thrives on emotion.

Now...here is my primary issue with the structure of this book. It is supposed to be a story of Sarah's life. But it isn't. It's a snippet. There are vignettes here and there, but really it's Ailsa's life. And even then, not a full picture of it. When you're dealing with the loss of a child at a young age, there are emotions, there are tears, there is upheaval. There was none of this. There was no description of her immediate feelings at the loss of her child. In fact, the actual loss of Sarah is really somewhat avoided. There is really no devotion to the last few months of Sarah's life. It's completely missing from the story. She briefly mentions Sarah's death in the beginning of the book and then touches on it lightly near the end. That's it. She doesn't describe her illness. She doesn't say how she felt, how she coped, how she is still living beyond her loss. She states at one point that she is not emotionally prepared to share a bit of Sarah's history, but to me that felt like the truth for the whole book. It just skims the surface. There needs to be more depth and more raw emotion. When it's a memoir, it needs that feel. Without it, the story tends to fall flat and be less interesting to an outside reader. It's also frustrating because I could tell that there was more than she was willing to give me. If she had waited until she was emotionally prepared to tell the story then this might have turned out much better. Though, at the age of 93, this day may never come. This almost says more to me about her love for Sarah than the novel did.

And then...it just ended. Just like that. It just dropped off. No real conclusion, no big epiphany. No resolution whatsoever. It was like a slap in the face. No reward for persevering. Ugh.

So...even though I hate to do it...even though it makes me feel mean and uncaring and something of a horrible person, I have to give my honest rating of the book. It may have been better if I'd bailed out mid-story and just given it a DNF (did not finish). But I didn't. So...I have to give my honest rating. And unfortunately, A Shining Space by Ailsa Fabian only receives two out of five stars.


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