The Hourglass

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

What would it be like to live for centuries, while those around you age and die?
This is the fascinating premise of Liz Heron’s book, The Hourglass, which I was able to download from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s a story about immortality set against the backdrop of timeless Venice, with its ambiguities and fading glories.

What is real? What is merely a beautiful façade with decay and ugliness behind it? What lies behind the masks that feature on the cover? Usually in dual-time novels, I prefer the historical to the modern story, but I felt that the relationship between researcher Paul and Eva was very well done.
Was this review helpful?
I found the premise of the story interesting but I just couldn't immerse myself in the way the book is written. The plot itself is extremely interesting and I like the fact that the entire story is about one single woman and what time means for women in particular but that wasn't enough for me. I loved the book cover.
Was this review helpful?
A really unique and interesting read. The dual storyline keep my interest and the characters were well written. I highly recommend
Was this review helpful?
The Hourglass is the tale of a woman who lived for over 300 years, constantly reinventing herself.  I have to say I was hooked by the premise.  The pageantry and beauty of the Opera and Italy made the story quite beautiful.  I did not make as close of a connection to the main characeter, Esme, as I would have liked. I think it was due to her ever present need for secrecy, and she remained a little distant even to the reader.  I was torn when choosing a rating, but went with 4 stars based on the complexity of the story,  the beautifully detailed settings and the trip through 300 years of history that The Hourglass became.  I was entertained and I would read work from Liz heron again. 
I received my copy through NetGalley under no obligation.
Was this review helpful?
I loved the premise and the cover. They were both enough to pull me in, however, upon actually starting it there was just to much romance for my taste. I'm  sure someone else will enjoy this book more than I did. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
Was this review helpful?
This one was just ok for me. I like historical fiction but this one jumped around to much for me and just wasn’t believable.
Was this review helpful?
Too much romance,  not enough research,  it didn't work it's magic on me,  despite an interesting premise, great cover art and an intriguing title
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and give my unbiased review
Was this review helpful?
An incredibly interesting concept, with a very promising start, however the writing style was difficult to overcome. I enjoyed the dual point of view narrative greatly, and it was used well by the author. However, the style of writing, especially when characters were speaking, was off putting and led to me DNFing the book. This is a shame as I was genuinely interested in the premise and the story was original. More editing would make this a more enjoyable read.
Was this review helpful?
Well, this was certainly a unique and intriguing read! I love books that feature artists - probably because I don't have an artistic bone in my body and those that do are fascinating to me. Add in a dual story-line and a woman whose life spans 300 years and I'm there! Per the author, The Hourglass was inspired by Janacek’s opera The Makropulos Case, in which a singer lives for nearly 300 years.

"I do not tire of life, but sometimes I tire of being endlessly remade."

Heron has a unique way of writing that took me a little bit to get into, but once I did it had a great flow to it and I found it compelling. 

Paul Geddes is a lover of Opera and has been fascinated with Opera singer, Esme Maguire, since reading an article about her. He reaches out to Eva Forrest who has more information on Esme. As the story progresses we follow Paul, on his quest for more of Esme's story, and his relationship with Eva. Switching between Paul's story we also hear from Esme herself as she narrates her life, her loves, her relationships, and how she reinvents herself over the span of her very long life. As she reinvents herself (changing her name every time, but always with the initials E.M.), traveling to different countries to start anew, the readers are taken on an international virtual tour of the most beautiful places in the world, and witness to some of the most important events in history. I must say, that part was my favorite.
Was this review helpful?
Three hundred years of becoming my truest self.  

The opera singer, the character in The Hourglass who lives for three hundred years, whose name changes from Elena, to Elisa, to Elenora, to Esme and finally Eva, whose fabricated identities are a tangle of deception—this is someone desperate to find her truest self.

That phrase in fact appears five times in Liz Heron’s novel: the first, just as we begin to meet the enduring Eva Forrest, and the last, nearing the end as she clings desperately to her secret.  It’s notable because truest self has become the mantra for so many self-help books and websites.  It’s invaded the general discourse about mental wellness, and certainly entered into heartfelt conversations over lattes at the local Starbucks.  I bookmarked each cite because that phrase along with the word authentic, as in being authentic, baffles and annoys me, but more about that later.
          
Liz Heron’s light fantasy novel is an ambitious effort to bring forth life in old Venice beginning with the Italian Renaissance.  In concept her work reveals the beauty of high culture, art 
and opera through 18th, 19th and 20th century Italy as told by a character who lives it all.  That character Eva Forrest, an illustrious opera singer, is pursued by a supporting player, Paul Geddes, a researcher of operatic works.  

The Hourglass follows an unusual pattern of storytelling, the perspective flipping from the personal narrative of the Eva character through the centuries, to the nearly present day third-person narrative of the Paul character.  As a researcher, Paul is looking for the elusive personal papers of Esme Maguire, an obscure and mysterious opera singer—cue the spooky music—which happen to be in Eva’s possession.  Eva it seems, is more interested in being mysterious herself than helpful to the quixotic Paul—more spooky music—though she quickly falls for the Scot and they carry-on a love affair that lasts through most of the novel.

While the happy couple is playing tit-for-tat about the secret buried deep in the heart of one opera star, Heron begins to tell the centuries-long history of the diva singer.  It isn’t giving anything away to say that Eva has to take extraordinary measures to conceal her long-lived existence.  As her contemporaries begin to die out, she slips away, severing relationships and assuming new identities.

With each incarnation of the Eva character, Heron maintains the same initials—E.M.: Esme Maguire, Elena Merlo, Eleonora Marini, etc.  Perhaps it’s so Eva doesn’t have to keep changing the monogram on her full length gloves or her elegant leather trunk.  For someone who goes to such length to conceal her identity, it makes no sense to maintain her centuries old initials.  It may be Heron’s way of maintaining the mystery surrounding her character, or maybe the magic is simply that she desperately wants someone to discover her secret, someone like an operatic researcher.  It’s but one of the puzzling things about The Hourglass.  

Within the first few pages of her book, it’s clear that Heron’s account will be rich in detail—flowery, abundant, heavy and prosaic:

"Outside, in a garden sheltered by a sturdy dense-leafed tree, everything rustled – with what might have been the murmur of a breeze or else the pattering of rain.  Whatever it was, and he couldn’t reach past the overhang to test the moisture of the air, it made the garden active and vibrant, a presence separate from the inert stones that surrounded it, and joined instead to the deep night sky above."

The writing should have painted a lavish, thoughtful and fascinating canvas of a city in motion, buffeted by constant change.  Instead, it is a head scratchingly-detailed, sometimes shallow view of both people and place.  Clearly we’re in traditional literary fiction territory, which takes skill—lingering in the minutiae and intimate moments in time.  The key to this genre is determining when to linger, instead of assuming that being literary means describing every single inch of ground between the narrator and the distant horizon.  When I think of the craft of literature (even though it’s considered historical fiction), it is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See that demonstrates the extent to which a writer can loiter in the intricacies of what is ordinary.  Doerr’s description of a discovered radio, the wires, the earphone, the extent to which a character lovingly restores it, is simply beautiful.  And because of that, that attention, that clarity of purpose even in the smallest parts of life, All the Light We Cannot See draws closer to the literary spectrum of writing, not to mention, it’s just brilliant work.

Heron demonstrates that she can craft prose that is eloquent and thoughtful; she can unearth the tiny moments in a character’s existence, but in this novel she loses her way a bit, particularly when the focus is not on her main character.  Paul’s study of Venice, his curiosity about Esme and then Eva, and eventual romance with the later, feels sterile.  And the third person narrative does little to help.  He seems at times detached, which makes his role as a central figure in the story diminished.  

His character too, feels older than what Heron intended, as does Eva’s (though a three-hundred-year old woman might be excused for acting her age).  There is a fundamental difference in the way a thirty year old thinks and behaves—impassioned, impulsive, unfiltered—and a fifty year old.  And age is what taints their affair, both the physical and emotional interactions.  Like so much of The Hourglass, something so intimate and intense is neither.  I also found myself wondering why they seemed older.  I realized that this too is connected to Heron’s desire for achieving the literary art form, but the abject details in this book never seem to accumulate and build the core of her characters.  It reminds me of conversations with a grandparent, the way they tell you about every aspect of their daily life, no matter how small and insignificant.  To them, it all might be significant.  For Eva and Paul, this obsession with detail ages them, which is remarkable in a book about an ageless woman.

At the end of three centuries, The Hourglass is all about Eva; the other characters are just supporting cast.  Her personal account is the one thing that keeps this book from drowning under its own weight.  Eva’s journey is a sad testament to a life lived quite alone.  Those she knew and loved, are gone, some so far gone that she can no longer remember them.  It’s one of the interesting perspectives that Heron is able to bring—that there is little that is pleasurable about an immortal life.  Human beings were not designed for such existences.  And one of the great sadnesses in The Hourglass is the length to which Eva must go to depart from one of those existences to the next, to deceive everyone around her, and to leave the people in her life before she is discovered.  

Although Heron is never able to achieve her ambitious goal, she does in fact create an empathy around Eva, that is deep and soulful.  I still detest todays’ truest self epidemic, and it’s surely out of place in 17th Century Italy, but I appreciate the sentiment.  In Eva’s world there is mostly lies and deceit, but there is opera.  The one place where she finds her only true self, is on the stage.  If I never have to hear that phrase again, at least for once I can imagine what it means for Eva Forrest to be her truest self.

"To sing so well that I’m impervious to hurts, to sing so well that it cancels my loneliness, makes my art my best companion, makes me my truest self."  The Hourglass, Liz Heron
Was this review helpful?
The description of Heron's book fascinated me and I was excited to read the book, but I don't think I am the right reader for the story. Descriptions painted Venice perfectly, but the characters felt flat and monotone. I just didn't feel connected to any of the characters. The author's choice to not use quotation marks and use (-) instead made for an odd read as well.
Was this review helpful?
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the premise is fascinating. Interesting in writing a book on the fin-de-siècle opera singer Esme Maguire, Paul arrives in Venice to meet with Eva Forest, a widow who claim to have archive documents yet to be explored. Yet, most of the papers don't seem to mention Esme at all. They revolve around Elena Merlo, a 17th century opera singer who lived through 300 years. How does her story connect to Esme and why is Eva sharing this story with Paul?

Sadly, the execution wasn't as gripping. Heron does a wonderful job at bringing Venice alive. Her descriptions are so vivid, you literally feel like you're there, watching the city change throughout the century. Venice is the major character in the story, and is better developed than even the protagonists, Paul and Eva are. In fact, these two are quite flat and predictable characters.

I personally found the chapters about Elena Merlo life way more interesting than the present relationships between Paul and Eva. Their story is so predictable, yet it never feels like it's going anywhere.

If you're into Venice or like books that continually spans through the past and present, you'll like this. It's not a bad book, it's just not for me.
Was this review helpful?
Liz Heron’s The Hourglass is a breathtaking, mystical and musical novel that will captivate any reader who has traveled abroad or even merely traveled within the pages of a good book. The romance and mystery drew me in until the exquisite final few pages. I can’t wait to see what Heron writes next!
Was this review helpful?
Great read. Kept me interested and gripped from the very first page. I enjoyed the storyline and the characters and felt drawn into the story itself. Great
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed The Hourglass written by Liz Heron and published by Unbound. It was a romp
Through 300 years of Italy and it’s history. I felt, at times, like I was there in Italy with 
Esme Maguire. Vivid descriptions of locations in Italy, clothing over changing styles 
and delicious foods made me feel closer to Esme across the centuries. The well-written 
characters and setting helped me persevere to the end.
Was this review helpful?
The hourglass tells the story of Paul Geddes, a Scott living in London, who visits Venice to research the life of a rather obscure opera singer named Esme Maguire. The sources about this opera singer are really sparse and the only one who can provide him with some documents about her is a wealthy widow named Eva Forrest, but she gives him papers about other opera singers through the last 3 centuries instead.
As it turns out the papers form a kind of diary about a woman who lives literally for centuries and changes identities regularly.  A troubled and complicated relationship develops between Paul and  Eva.
I liked the setting in, and the descriptions of Venice, and the information about all the opera singers, artists etcetera. While reading the story I had the impression that I heard this story before which proved to be true. Years ago I saw Janáček’s opera The Makropulos Case and the main character in the book is based on Elina Makropoulos from the opera. 

I liked the book as a whole and the way the story of Elena/Elise/Eleonora/Edita/Esme etc. and the story about Paul and Eva were intertwined. I kept wondering if Eva was delusional or if she really was the same character.

That said I think that there are flaws in the book too, for instance the characters are rather flat and at the end I didn’t have the idea that I really knew Paul or Eva or what motivated them. Especially the character of Paul would have benefitted from some more background information, but also all the different identities of Elena were rather flat.

Would have been 4 stars if the characters had been better developed, but as it is, 3 stars.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book. The story within a story structure created an eagerness within me to find out the truth and the ending.

I thought that this book was unputdownable and I read it in one sitting. It was really well-written and I felt emotionally invested in the characters. I would definitely be interested in reading more from this author.

The cover is also beautiful and a great design for the book!

The ending had a good length build up and I was happy with the resolve. It was beautiful!
Was this review helpful?
For the first 3/4 of this book, I was loving it. Venice was a character in its own right and a wonderful one. The historical parts were fascinating and the modern ones intriguing. Who was this woman and was Paul speaking with and interacting with a woman now 300 years old? Alas, the final section of the book crashed on my head and ruined everything that went before. Besides having the fantastical illusion shattered, I didn't buy the too quick romance wrap up of the story. It was like anticipating Christmas and then getting a lump of coal instead.
Was this review helpful?
While I generally love historical fiction, especially of foreign cultures, this book was not all I hoped it would be. I think a bigger fan of opera would enjoy this one.
Was this review helpful?
Some of my favourite novels, be it historical or contemporary, are those that revolve around visual arts, music, or an artist’s life (fictional or real people), and “The Hourglass” has all of that and more. We’re following, in this dual past/present narrative timeline, an opera singer, Esme Maguire, and get glimpses of the musical life in Venice, Regency London, or Belle Époque Paris. There’s an episode where one of the characters poses for Longhi’s “The Geography Lesson” and another, closer to modern times, in a photographer’s studio. All these episodes, along with the fabulist element that surrounds Esme’s life, make for an atmospheric read. I really enjoyed those bits tremendously, reminding me of Jeanette Winterson’s “The Passion.”

My problem with this novel was the contemporary setting and its two main characters: Eva and Paul! Their relationship felt rushed and their attraction for each completely unrealistic. Paul, who is supposedly a historian, interacts very little with the bits of scripts he’s been given. He does, actually, very little “history-ing” throughout the novel, putting his analytical mind to work only when convenient. As a matter of fact, most of what happens in this novel, in contemporary times is convenient to somehow fit with/explain the past rather too easily. I rolled my eyes at the “Ice Men” episode: it was just too much!

Also, waiting for Paul’s character to put two and two together turned into a dull read. The writer couldn’t make up her mind as to how Esme Maguire, the long line of E.M.s in the journals, and Eva are related and that indecision between mental health and magic realism led to an unsatisfying conclusion. 

“– What do you think of the gaps in this strange story? So many years unaccounted for. 
– Aren’t there gaps in all our lives? Things always stand out from the past. Don’t we best remember the turning points… the peaks of happiness or the things that break our hearts?”

I was hoping for a more character driven story, so this didn’t quite work for me.

*Thanks to NetGalley & Unbound for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.*
Was this review helpful?