First off, I must say right away that Anita Shreve is one of my favourite authors. Although I have only read half of her 14 novels so far, the ones I had read before Testimony fall into two categories: those I loved, own and will probably reread at some point (The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, Fortune’s Rocks and The Last Time They Met) and those I enjoyed but probably wouldn’t read again and therefore don’t own (All He Ever Wanted and Light on Snow). Unfortunately, Testimony fits into a new and disappointing category of its own, as it is the first Shreve novel I haven’t enjoyed.
Testimony begins with a headmaster at a private school in Vermont viewing a videotape of sexual acts involving four students: three young men of 18 or 19 and a 14-year old girl. The story is told in a multiplicity of voices, from the students involved to their parents, teachers and various other members of the community. It felt like the first half of the book circled around and around the event, jumping from one character to the next as well as back and forth through time without actually getting any closer to the specifics of what had happened that fateful night or why. I found this part of the book hard to get into and sometimes confusing. None of the characters came across as very sympathetic, or rather the revolving narration kept me at arms’ length from all of them. About 150 pages in, I seriously contemplated abandoning the book. However, something shifted around that point. From then on, all the narratives seemed to zero in on the videotaped event in a much more linear fashion and a couple of the characters clearly emerged as sympathetic. My favourite passages are those written from Noelle’s point of view; her descriptions of her evolving relationship with Silas are tender and moving. The ending of the book was satisfying up to a point, but I was still left feeling a bit cold about the whole thing.
Besides the structure of the book, what disappointed me the most about this novel is that Shreve failed to explore the girl’s motivations or back story in any way. Instead, she is basically portrayed as the anonymous catalyst for the ruin of many other lives. It didn’t feel like her life—what little we knew of it—was changed very drastically by this otherwise momentous event.
[END OF MINOR SPOILER]
Overall, I felt very meh about this book. I highly recommend you pick up one of Shreve’s earlier novels instead.
I realize that in not liking this novel I am very much in the minority. It has been (almost) universally praised on book blogs. To read much more favourable reviews, visit the following sites:
At Home with Books • Bermudaonion’s Weblog • Bookfan • Booking Mama • Books and Cooks • Breaking the Spine • Caribousmom • Linus’s Blanket • Peeking Between the Pages • Reader for Life • Redlady’s Reading Room • Today’s Adventure
The only other review I could find that comes close to expressing my feelings about this novel was published in The Los Angeles Times. Be forewarned, however, that it contains spoilers.
Another less-than-favourable review (though for different reasons) can be found on Kim’s blog, I Smell Books.
Edited to add other less-than-favourable reviews:
Book Addiction • BooksPlease • Diary of an Eccentric • Feminist Review • Girls Just Reading
Thank you to Hachette for sending me this book to review.