Book Review: Bittersweet

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Jackie has been persistent in her wish that I read The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough, going so far as to dig around and press into my hands her own copy of it, which now sits staring out at me. She’s been persistent because of the many times I’ve complained about just not finding those really, really great books this year. Jackie has recommended books like this to me in the past as well, most notably would (finally) picking up Memoirs of a Geisha. (She was right of course, what a fantastic read!)

At any rate, I saw Bittersweet on Netgalley with the tagline of “Her first romantic saga since The Thorn Birds” and immediately requested it. Wow, this should be quite grand then right? I looked into the story’s  description and also admit to quickly perusing through the other ratings and reviews on Goodreads. Oh dear, most mentioned it wasn’t on par with what many called “their very favourite book ever”, The Thorn Birds.

Yet, with details like, “An unforgettable Australian saga of sisterhood, family, love and betrayal. This is the story of two sets of twins, Edda and Grace, Tufts and Kitty, who struggle against all the restraints, prohibitions, laws and prejudices of 1920s Australia“, it would seem to have all that I enjoy in a novel – a saga, sisters, a coming of age across a greater time period, etc. – so I decided that since I have not actually read her masterpiece yet, I could delve into Bittersweet and perhaps build a sense of excitement to settle down with The Thorn Birds at a later date.

Sadly, I would have to agree on some level with the other reviewers, Bittersweet just did not seem to possess that pizazz and finesse of what an “unforgettable saga” would normally hold for me. While I was involved in the story, and I did enjoy it, it is predictably unforgettable for the most part. I felt the girls, Grace & Edda and Tufts & Kitty, to be very one-dimensional and quite contrived. The attempt to provide them with very individual characteristics came across as flat and their personalities had the consistency of cardboard.

I stayed with it, the story line wasn’t a bad one really, but the writing was definitely not anything I would have anticipated from an author of this calibre or reputation. Nary a descriptive word in sight. Ever. There were absolutely no supplementary details provided, most notably in their surroundings or while they were at work within the hospital in anything they did. The dialogue was colourless and extremely straightforward. Is McCullough the true author of this novel?

I noted I could go with a rating of 3.5 in my brief Goodreads review, but referencing that rating to our site it states, “Very Good”. I’m not so convinced of that rating now, and now that I’ve had some distance from it. It did become quite unforgettable to me now that I’ve closed the pages sometime ago. So 3 stars it is – “Good, recommend with reservations”. I suppose however, this will only create a greater anticipation to read The Thorn Birds.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev