Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: The Whole World

Summary: At once a sensual and irresistible mystery and a haunting work of psychological insight and emotional depth, The Whole World marks the beginning of a brilliant literary career for Emily Winslow, a superb, limitlessly gifted author.

Set in the richly evoked pathways and environs of Cambridge, England, The Whole World unearths the desperate secrets kept by its many complex characters—students, professors, detectives, husbands, mothers—secrets that lead to explosive consequences.

Two Americans studying at Cambridge University, Polly and Liv, both strangers to their new home, both survivors of past mistakes, become quick friends. They find a common interest in Nick, a handsome, charming, seemingly guileless graduate student. For a time, the three engage in harmless flirtation, growing closer while doing research for professor Gretchen Paul, the blind daughter of a famed novelist. But a betrayal, followed by Nick’s inexplicable disappearance, brings long-buried histories to the surface.

The investigation raises countless questions, and the newspapers report all the most salacious details—from the crime that scars Polly’s past to the searing truths concealed in photographs Gretchen cannot see. Soon the three young lovers will discover how little they know about one another, and how devastating the ripples of long-ago actions can be. -- Delacorte Press

I was so excited when Emily Winslow contacted me about reading her debut novel THE WHOLE WORLD. I am participating in the 2010 Debutante Ball Challenge, and this books counts for the current year since Ms. Winslow is a 2010 Deb. Plus I have really liked every one of the Deb books that I've read in the past few years, so I was definitely looking forward to this book.

THE WHOLE WORLD is the story of a group of students at Cambridge University who seem to have pretty normal college lives. When one of the students disappears, each character begins to learn a great deal about each other and themselves.

Technically THE WHOLE WORLD is labeled as suspense on the publisher's website, and it was a book filled with intrigue. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how literary this book was as well. In a way, I don't think this novel should be labeled as just a suspense story. I thought Ms. Winslow wrote a great book with well developed characters and a well thought-out plot. And I especially appreciated how she decided to tell this story.

The book is set up in different sections about each of the main characters. Each section is written in the first person voice of the character, so Ms. Winslow had to "pull off" telling the story from the point-of-view of different characters with very different voices. I can tell you that I was impressed with how well she managed to do this. I thought each section of the book had a distinct voice and I thought all of the characters' voices were credible. I can't imagine that, as an author, that's an easy thing to do.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about this novel were the different characters. And by different, I mean that the characters in this story were very unique. All of them were quite complex (and some were even a bit strange.) I liked how flawed each character was (quite a few had some emotional baggage), and I really appreciated how Ms. Winslow revealed their innermost thoughts and feelings (strange though they might have been.) I felt that the insight into these characters was refreshingly honest, and I loved how she slowly peeled back their outer appearances to reveal their deeper, emotional layers.

I also really liked how Ms. Winslow brought the setting of this novel to life. The story takes place at Cambridge University, and I liked seeing this area through the eyes of each character. I felt that the setting of this novel was critical; and at times, I thought it was described so vividly that it became another character. I especially liked seeing the different impressions of the town based on the different characters -- an American girl, a blind woman, a young man who'd spent his whole life there, etc. Ms. Winslow did a great job showing the many sides of Cambridge, and it's apparent that she truly knows the University.

If your group is looking for a book that's a little different than typical book club fare, then I suggest THE WHOLE WORLD. It's definitely got some suspense and mystery elements, but there is also a great deal of character development and interesting things to discuss. There is a reading guide available which has some very interesting questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include American versus British culture, relationships, friendships, and secrets. Ms. Winslow is also available to call into your book club meeting.

I definitely recommend THE WHOLE WORLD! It seems like you can't go wrong with those Debs!

Thanks to the author for sending me a review copy of this novel.


S. Krishna said...

Great review! I definitely want to read this one. I may have to buy it for my Hawaii trip.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

yet another book i am adding to my list.. you've had a lot of great stuff lately!

Beth F said...

I love the idea of a literary suspense with complex and different characters! Thanks for reminding me about the Deb books.