The Hourglass

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.*
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I was drawn to this book because the principal character was an opera singer.

Heron chose to create a story that was exclusively plot driven---and, very complex due to its span of several centuries.  I didn't have a problem with the premise of a character who does not age, but grew tired of the need for secrecy in her life. That necessity drove the action of the book and became tiresome for me after a point.

 I am intrigued by the drama and theatricality of opera and hoped to experience a few centuries of opera lore through this story.  That was not the author's intent, nor was it a novel that would let us dive into the complexities of an artistic temperament (another possibility).

I would also have liked to feel more affinity with the cities and cultures in which the book was set--the writing was lush and descriptive, but I never felt like I was present in the areas described in THE HOURGLASS.

My principal disappointment was that the characters didn't feel alive to me.  There was emotion displayed throughout the book, but my relationship to the characters was not sufficient for me to really feel much of anything---other than an interest in the final outcome of the story.

NetGalley provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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When I read about this novel I was very curious to see if it would be possible to hang around - especially as a talented opera diva, a wife, a mother - for three hundred years through wars and plagues and changing country borders in a place as busy as Venice without anyone actually noticing.  I am pleased to say that it is.  This tale was handled very well, bringing us from 1684 through the year 2000 with very little confusion about who we are with and what time we are sharing. 

Eva was traveling Europe with her mother and siblings in 1686.  On the eve of her sixteenth birthday she was in dire straights, a dangerously high fever and on the verge of death when her mother remembered a doctor scientist she had met in Venice.  He is able to save Eva with a concoction he had been working on to extend the body's process of renewing itself and thus adding years to the healthy middle part of life.  Eva's mother was instructed to continue the treatments of ten drops every day until the vial of medicine was used up and Eva had returned to health.  Side effects?  The doctor wasn't sure.... 

Eva's first marriage was to Victor Murnau.  She performed under many names over the next 300 years, but her initials were always EM.  Her first true love was Lorenzo, whom she lost track of for many years.  She would have over those years several husbands, some love matches, some for convenience or protection.  She bore one son, and adopted a daughter whom she treasured dearly. 
Often she traveled, signing up with various city opera houses for the season.  Once a generation she would take a season or two off or perform in foreign lands, and return to her home in Venice as her own niece, or granddaughter. In this way she was able to work at a job she loved in a city she adored for all of the time allotted to her.    

 received a free electronic copy of this very interesting novel from Netgalley, Liz Heron and Unbound Digital in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
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Sadly I just could not get into this book. For me it lacked depth. 
As the reader it was evident that certain parts of the were translated and it did effect the flow of the book. 
Not for me sadly,
Thank you to both NetGalley and unbound digital for eARC in exchange for my honest unbiased review
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2.5 stars.

The premise is interesting, if not very new; I was definitely interested to see how it all played out, because frequent readers will probably be able to put the pieces together much, much more quickly than Paul does. Unfortunately, that took quite a while, then it was just a matter of getting through to the end.

I never really got invested in the story. The characters seemed pretty flat, defined by their circumstances and reacting to the plot rather than having complex individualized traits. I'm not a fan of randomly translating words into the "local" language, and it doesn't really work because Latin-based languages look pretty similar (I hadn't reviewed the synopsis before reading, and I thought it was Spanish. But no, it's set in Venice, so Italian). And I've never liked the ominous foreshadowing statements — "I wouldn't know it until later, but..." — especially when the "twists" to come are fairly predictable. You'll probably also see the relationships coming from a mile away, not because they're thoroughly developed but because they're convenient and, to be frank, pretty heteronormative — especially the primary romance. 

This book might be one for readers who are more interested in plot than characterization, and if you like the dual past/present narrative format. But it wasn't really for me.
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I loved this book: it's engaging and enthralling.
I loved the style of writing, so beautiful. The characters were well developed and I loved how they were written.
I loved the plot and how it describes Venice, so dreamy and poetic.
It was an amazing reading experience and I look forward to reading other books by this writer.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to Unbound and Netgalley for this ARC
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"It's true that the world keeps changing. The past can only exist for us in smithereens; even in our own span of life we forget so much. Yet some things stay the same: how love feels, being a parent, being young or growing old - the cycle of life, in other words."

Venice is vividly portrayed in Heron's novel, its role in the history of opera and in the events of the last 300 years, as well as the ideas of immortality/mortality, which makes for a thought provoking read. Beautiful prose, lavish imagery, albeit the characterization often fell flat. Whilst the main plot is quite simple and the descriptive prose brought Venice to life, it was quite hard to identify the narrator of each chapter.
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