Author: Mave Fellowes
Rating: 2 stars
I received this book through Goodreads First Reads program.
I really should have known better when I picked up Chaplin and Company. Pretty much every element of the book was something I hate in my reading experience. I can’t stand circus books (it wasn’t quite a circus book but was, shall we say, circus-adjacent). POV hopping is irritating, especially without any apparent structure behind it. Contrived coincidences annoy me. And the only thing I loathe more than excessively quirky characters are excessively quirky characters who feel smugly superior to everyone else.
So I should have known that I was never going to like this book, but I read it anyway. The end is more promising than the beginning, but that couldn’t save it for me.
Chaplin and Company is the story of Odeline Milk, a biracial outcast who decides to leave her stifling hometown when her mother dies to pursue her dream of becoming a world famous mime. She promptly buys a decrepit houseboat, goes on a quest to find her father, and meets a cast of quirky characters whom she initially despises but gradually comes to care for.
I could not stand Odeline. That’s partly the point, as the whole book is about her journey of growth, but that didn’t make reading her anymore pleasant. She was snotty, smug, overbearing, and chock-full of ridiculous quirks. She walks around in an oversized suit, complete with bowler hat and clown shoes. She drinks hot chocolate in August and talks like a 1920s movie star. She wants to be a performer, but sneers at the idea of busking, or performing for children, or doing anything less than debuting on a grand stage with her idol. The cast of supporting characters were equally unpleasant. Ridley, the love interest, John Kettle, the drunk, and Vera, the fat immigrant, all had their own sets of ridiculous quirks, and the cast was rounded out by some cartoony thugs and some broken-down people who have convoluted and contrived past histories with Odeline’s boat. Oh, and her father, who is, unsurprisingly, an awful conman. Vera is probably the best of these characters, but Odeline has such initial disdain for her that it’s hard to do anything but pity her.
They are interesting characters, for the most part, but they are not enjoyable, and that was really offputting. My main problem with the book, however, was the structure. It was primarily in present tense, which is a trend I cannot stand. It works, when it’s done well, for short stories, but in novels is just distracting and exhausting. It also jumps around between viewpoint characters, tenses, and time periods, trying to present omniscience but instead creating somewhat of a mess. Nothing about the writing really appealed to me.
The ending of the book is stronger than the beginning. Odeline does change. But it’s almost too much too fast; given who she was at the beginning of the novel, I didn’t quite buy who she became. I knew from pretty much the first page that I wasn’t going to like the book, which colored my final opinion, so take my review with that in mind. Too many things about it just rubbed me the wrong way.