Book Review: The Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock

 What a great title. What a great cover. What a great premise!

What. a pointless. book.

In her latest book, The Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, Anne Charnock attempts to explore the hearts and minds of three women.   Antonia, Toni, and Toniah, women of the 15th, 21st, and 22nd centuries, wander through parallel lives, each burdened by a tragic past. Each woman (aged 11, 15, and 30ish) strives to find her place in a world which is largely indifferent to her hopes, to her needs, to her hidden heartbreaks. 

That’s it. No need to warn of spoilers, because nothing of substance happens to any one of these characters. From the beginning of this book to the end, these women do not learn or grow or change. There were so many opportunities to demonstrate and to speculate on the varying paths of women in three very different centuries. But no.  

I struggled from the beginning (only very rarely can I stomach stories told in the present tense) and by the abrupt and hopelessly existential conclusion I was exhausted. The pacing could not have been slower. The end results for each character could not have been less climactic.

Charnock did take an admirable amount of time researching for the glaringly obvious theme of this book: 15th century Italian Renaissance Art.  But instead of enriching the story, all the data and pedantic lessons on color and perspective and art history only weighed down an already cumbersome plot. Normally, I love stories set in a richly detailed history. But, I learned a valuable lesson from this experienced author: don’t study something that’s new to you in order to write a story about it. Write what you know. Write what’s natural to you and second nature, so that you can be the insider who invites intrepid explorers into a world of intimately familiar detail. Otherwise, you’ll write like a museum guide and put your readers to sleep.

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