Sarah (Workaday Reads)
on Sep. 5, 2012 :
This was a dark, depressing read. The story is quite heavy with a desperate feel to it. Even with this though, the ending had a glimmer of hope and the idea of overcoming darkness.
The characters were the biggest part of the story. Claire was frustrating, and at points I started to hate her. Finn was scary and dangerous, and was easy to hate. Raoul was the light of the story with his gentle understanding nature. He had his own dark side, he seemed much more controlled and “normal”.
While I didn’t like most of the characters, the writing quality was great. The fact that I had such a strong reaction to the characters said a lot. They felt real, and so I had a real reaction to them.
(reviewed 2 years after purchase)
on Oct. 5, 2011 :
Claire-Obscure is about a young woman named Claire Caviness. It is written in first-person present tense. Here are the opening lines: “Dear Virginia Woolf, My name is Claire Caviness. I am twenty-one years old, with an English degree and a job at a bookstore. I am the only child of parents I rarely see. My mother has never hugged me. My father takes pleasure with men. I am no longer angry about that, but jealous, because he does something I cannot.” Claire writes letters to Virginia Woolf, telling the story of her life. She collects words as if she is desperately seeking the right word to make everything better (and accordingly, a word and it’s definition open each chapter). She buys and wears eccentric vintage clothes. We also quickly learn that as a teenager Claire was raped not once, but twice, and this is (unsurprisingly) the deciding factor in her relationships with men.
And as the book opens, she meets a man at an art gallery named Finn Weston. Quickly, more quickly than seems possible (to her or the readers), she moves in with Finn, fancies herself in love with him, and becomes increasingly obsessed with him as she realizes he will not sleep with her. He has gone so far as to give her her own room in his apartment, and he locks his bedroom door at night. From here, things get more and more strange. One of Claire’s friends kills herself, her female boss at the bookstore comes on to her, and she meets another man named Raoul at a club, who quickly places himself Finn’s rival.
Put simply, this book is the portrait of a woman in crisis.
What made it difficult for me to read, especially in the first half of the novel, is that I was continuously frustrated by Claire’s actions and choices. I understood that the things she did were in a variety of ways reflections of the immense damage done to her, but that didn’t make me any less frustrated. I wanted so badly to grab her by the shoulders, shake her really hard, and explain to her exactly WHAT she was doing, WHY she was doing it, and why it was the WRONG thing to do. Because most of the time, she really didn’t know. And because I am always extremely hyper-self-aware, I sometimes have difficulty staying calm when others aren’t. So, every twenty minutes or so, I would get frustrated, growl at my Kindle, and toss it on the bed. Then after a couple hours of this back and forth, I would give up entirely and not read again for a couple days. Which meant it was going to take quite awhile to get through the whole novel.
What I want you to take away from this, however, is NOT that this is a bad book. Rather, the fact that I was able to be so painfully frustrated with this character, should tell you something about how real Billie Hinton was able to make Claire. I felt for her, I didn’t want to see her get hurt, and I didn’t want to see her do stupid things. I was worried about her. I wanted to jump into the novel and be the one friend who could figure out how to stop her and help her.
The two main male characters, Finn and Raoul, were also interesting, fleshed-out, and complicated characters. But most of the time, I didn’t want to help them, I just wanted to smack them. Hard. If I tell you why, that will be giving too much away. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean.
So, the characters are real and human and interesting. The story, slow in parts, frustrating in others, and pretty intense towards the end, probably would not have kept me going if I wasn’t so invested in making sure Claire ended up some place better than where she started out (though, toward the middle, I was beginning to worry that I was reading a tragedy and hadn’t been warned). It sort of felt like walking someone home because you want to make sure they gets there in one piece. The ending, while not precisely “happy” in the traditional “and she lived happily ever after” sense, was satisfying. And I felt it was safe enough to leave Claire at her front door, about to go inside.
There is, as I discovered at the end of the book, a sequel called Signs That Might Be Omens. But I’ll be honest, as much as I ended up liking Claire-Obscure in the end, I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequel. The ending of Claire-Obscure seemed complete enough, and I don’t feel a sequel is necessary. And the short description of the sequel sounds a little like something a fan-writer would do when they felt the girl didn’t end up with the right guy at the end of the book. I have no doubt this is a gross overgeneralization and is probably not fair to the sequel, and maybe I’ll give in and read it eventually, but it just seems unnecessary to me.
(reviewed 5 months after purchase)
on June 4, 2011 :
First, a warning: this is not a book for the faint of heart. It starts with rape that's described bluntly, though not graphically, and follows through the consequences in Claire's life.
I don't even know how to categorise this book; it's like nothing else I've ever read. It has a classic "chick lit" romance premise (one girl, two boys, a difficulty in choosing) but has nothing else in common with that genre. This may be the darkest book I've ever read, yet there's not a single scene that feels like it's been added gratuitously for 'shock' value. It feels sort of like a thriller - but although there is a dead body in suspicious circumstances, the suspense really comes from somewhere else. Whatever anyone else may do to Claire, it's arguable that what she does to herself is the most terrifying. In a way, it's a story of mental illness, though never quite named as such.
What I can say is that I read this in two sittings, staying up well after midnight because I couldn't put it down. The whole thing was just thoroughly compelling. The writing flows smoothly, in gripping present-tense narrative, and the story progresses quickly. It's not a "light" read, though - I stormed through it quickly, but it continues to challenge me after I've put the book down.
(reviewed 7 days after purchase)