Sunday, November 14, 2010

REVIEW: "Descending" by Catherine Chisnall

How far would you go to change your life? 

Emily works two part-time jobs to make ends meet in her lonely life. She has just two friends, and her one love relationship has long since ended. She's frustrated with where her life is headed, and things just don't seem to be getting any better. One fateful afternoon, she finds herself trapped in a rapidly descending elevator with one of her students. The brush with death, the exciting and rogue personality of this student, and Emily's own mixed-up feelings of frustration and loneliness make for a fateful combination as she finds herself embarking on a course she cannot escape. She loses herself in this relationship, and her life is irrevocably changed as a result. 

The concept behind this novella is provocative and intense in nature. It makes you question your own sense of right and wrong as you struggle to understand what is going on in Emily's head. The book is pretty well-edited (always a plus), and the writing style is simplistically clear and concise. While I think there is a place for such a clean writing style, a book laden with intense emotional conflict isn't it. As a result of the simplicity of the writing, the characters lacked depth and the events lacked emotion. The relationship that developed was described in such a detached way, it became unbelievable and less engaging. What attracted Emily to this boy? What was truly going on in her head? I didn't get a real feel for what Emily was experiencing. The combination of the simple way things were described and the lack of emotional depth left me with the impression that Emily was actually a 30-year-old, slow-witted girl. I really wanted to connect with Emily, but just couldn't.   

I think the events in the elevator as they were trapped and descending against their will could have been a powerful mirror for the events of the rest of the story, as they were trapped in a relationship that was quickly spiraling out of control. Although I suspect that connection was intentional, the lack of emotional depth didn't support the idea that it was meant to be a recurring theme. There were a few flashbacks in the story, but I had difficulty understanding why they were there. It seemed there should have been more of a clear purpose to include them. One, in particular, about Emily's father had the real potential to be woven into a motivation for Emily's actions. Instead, it just seemed to hang there, unattached to the events of the story. Although the start to the story does draw you in, the ending felt unsatisfying. I didn't feel closure on why the events transpired as they had, and where the story would have gone from there. A stronger more abrupt ending, or even a more detailed extended ending, would have been preferable to the mediocre "in-between" ending I read. 

I do think this story has great potential, but I think it needs some more voice and emotional expression to become the story it could be. In a plot with such (potentially) intense and powerful events, I was left wanting much more than what I was given. 

2.5 /5 stars

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