Angel of Brooklyn by Janette Jenkins

DATE FINISHED: April 27th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Beatrice is raised in small-town America by her distant father, an amateur taxidermist, alongside her brother’s dreams of becoming a preacher. When this life comes to an abrupt end, Beatrice finds herself on Coney Island – at first selling postcards, but later playing a starring role, as the Angel of Brooklyn. Lancashire lad , Jonathan, whisks her away from the ‘glamour’ of the boardwalk, and Beatrice switches the hustle & bustle of small-time entertainment for the gossip of a tiny village without even a picture-house. Beatrice adapts to her new life in Anglezarke, but as all the young men sign up to serve their country, tensions rise amongst those left in the village.

THOUGHTS:   I did not immediately warm to this book. The story in the first section of the book was mostly told through dialogue, which didn’t seem to be paced quite right. A consistent problem for me throughout the novel was the lack of distinction between the characters’ voices, which were never especially recognisable or distinct from each other, and definitely sounded neither American (except for the occasionally dropped in ‘for sure’) nor broad northern. However, I enjoyed the way Jenkins structured the novel, breaking up a straightforward narrative with a variety of interspersed correspondence and lists, providing random ‘snapshots’ of and flashbacks to important moments in Beatrice’s life – both with her family and then later on Coney Island.

There is an obvious poignancy in the trauma faced by the young men away at war, and the growing fears of the families left behind; but as Beatrice drifted angelically through life regardless of circumstance, I began to feel that there was not quite enough depth to the prose to do the ideas justice. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this book, and got quite caught up in the story – I was intrigued to find out how Beatrice would meet her untimely end (forewarned in the opening line). The problem was that the Angel of Brooklyn was a mythical creature that I didn’t quite believe in, and so her demise was easy to accept, and did not quite provide the powerful allegory I think the author was aiming for…

FOLLOWING ON:  The contrast of Morecambe Bay with Coney Island is echoed in The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall.  The psychological impact of the Great War is given greater power in Regeneration by Pat Barker.  I think it is more likely to appeal to fans of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

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