Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

Summary: Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew. 

 The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage. 

 The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died. 

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices. -- Crown

Every once in awhile, I read a book that changes my life. Well, maybe it doesn't exactly change any visible thing in my world, but it resonates with me and really makes me think. Surely, you know what I'm talking about? I absolutely love it when a book can affect me like this because it's a very rare and a very special thing. And that's exactly what happened to me when I read THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. by Nichole Bernier.

I hadn't heard much about THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. prior to picking up this novel. If I'm pressed to remember, I think I saw a few good reviews of it along with some buzz on Twitter, but I certainly didn't sit down and expect to be blown away. However, that's exactly what happened to me! I adored this novel and it will definitely go down as one of my favorites of 2012.

THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. tells the story of two women -- Kate and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who died in an airplane accident shortly after September 11th, has left her personal journals to her close friend Kate (notice she didn't leave them to her husband!) Naturally, her friend's words are difficult to read, but things become even more complicated when Kate realizes that her friend, who she thought was a fun-loving wife and mom, isn't what she appeared. By delving into Elizabeth's personal thoughts about her life, Kate begins to question everything she thought she knew about their friendship as well as her own self.

Where do I even begin talking about this novel? On one hand, I'm dying to talk about all of this book's nuances; however, on the other hand, I'm afraid I will gush too much about it and perhaps even oversell it. While I do think there were many things in THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. that were very well done, I do acknowledge that this novel might not be as relevant to every reader as it was to me. But, oh how, this book touched me and made me assess (and reassess) my feelings about being a friend, a wife and a mother.

I should probably get this out of the way since I'm going to discuss how the book affected me and things might get a bit personal. I have almost nothing in common with Elizabeth -- I'm not leading some secret life with hidden feelings. Nor do I find that I'm in a similar situation to Kate and her marriage. What I can say, though, is that so many of the themes explored in this story -- from love, to marriage, to friendship, to motherhood, to career, to choices -- were relevant and definitely struck a chord with me.

So back to the book! THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. naturally touched my heart and sparked some food for thought with me; however, there were so other impressive things about this novel. First and foremost is Ms. Bernier's writing style. She is darn good on so many fronts. I appreciated her character development as well as her prose. But what I appreciated the most was how she decided to tell Elizabeth's story, and as a result, Kate's. Because Kate read Elizabeth's journals in short bursts, Elizabeth's past came out in bits and pieces; and the book had an almost mystery feel to it. In addition, there were a few "mysteries" about Elizabeth that were revealed in a surprising way towards the end of the novel.

Another way I was impressed with Ms. Bernier's writing was in how well she expressed the confusing and conflicting emotions in women. Many books explore the strength of female friendships (I should know because I read tons of them), but THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. explored a different aspect of friendship. In addition, this book looked at marriage -- the good, the bad, and the ugly if you will. But what I loved is that is delved into our hidden lives --how we make our choices, what it means to be committed, and even the secrets we keep from those we love.

Needless to say, I think THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. would make a superb book club selection for female book clubs... especially those made up of moms. There were many similar themes in this book to THE TEN YEAR NAP, and that book (while not our favorite) provided my group with one of our best discussions. In fact after I finished this book, the first thing I wanted to do was discuss it with a friend. If that's not a good indicator of a book club pick, then I don't know what is. The author recently posted a discussion guide which has fifteen terrific questions. There are so many relevant issues to explore include family, friendships, betrayal, adultery, career choices, motherhood, marriage, redemption, and secrets.

I sure hope that I convinced you to take a look at THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. It's a beautifully written story that could potentially have the power to make you reflect on the relationships in your own life.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Serena said...

Wow, this sounds so good! I've pinned this one on my books I want to read board. Thanks for the awesome review.

bermudaonion said...

You've sold me! This sounds like a book I NEED to read! Fantastic review today!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I really liked this novel. I won a copy via Goodreads First Reads. Here's a link to my very brief review:

Beth Hoffman said...

I just read this book and really liked it too. Terrific review, Julie.

Beth F said...

I keep meaning to make time to read this. Wow!! I really need to sit down with Elizabeth D.

Amy said...

well now of course I want to read this!

Unknown said...

Totally and completely agree with you! I loved this novel as well. The only trouble I have in telling people about it is convincing them that it is NOT too sugary sweet and sentimental. It made me THINK. Right book, right author, right time. I love it when that happens! So glad you enjoyed this one!!

Unknown said...
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Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

"changes my life..." high praise!!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh good Lord now I'm going to have to read it. That is huge stuff coming from you. Can't ignore.

Karlie said...

This novel sounds amazing!

Marion said...

Great review, you have sold me on it, I`m picking up a copy tomorrow.