Where You Belong
When I was around twelve, I read the book A Woman of Substance and I seem to remember enjoying it, although I may not remember the story very well. After reading Barbara Taylor Bradford’s latest offering all I can think is that I either wasn’t very choosy at twelve or the author’s writing has gone seriously downhill.
Valentine Denning is a war photographer, often putting her life on the line to record just the right moments in history. While Val was raised in a very affluent setting, she was not treated with any love or respect by her parents and has come to resent her brother for being the favored child. Any love she received came from her grandfather; for the first third of the book we are reminded of this constantly.
While in Kosovo she sees her lover, Tony Hampton, killed and her friend Jake Newberg wounded. Tony and Jake are also war photographers but Tony often took unnecessary risks. Val is heartbroken over this and begins to retreat within herself. At Tony’s memorial service, Val finds out that Tony was not divorced as he had said, but was still married. Once again, Val’s life tilt’s on its axis.
Jake also feels betrayed by Tony’s lies since the two had been best friends for years. Jake convinces Val to go on vacation with him and there the two fall in love. Jake has loved Val for years and supposedly Val was attracted to Jake but he was married and by the time he was divorced, she was with Tony. I don’t see how you can not be suspicious of someone who seems to disappear for weeks on end after assignments. How can someone transfer affections so easily from one friend to the other, then once one of them is dead, back again? None of it made sense and I blame that on the writing.
There you go. In three paragraphs, I’ve pretty much summed up the book. Yes, other things happen. There is a side story about a French woman with an abusive husband and Val has to deal with her family. She also finds out some more not so nice things about Tony from his wife. The story about the French woman seems just thrown in there for no particular reason. I assume it’s to spice the story up some but it doesn’t work. While she does everything in her power to help this woman, Val is an absolutely selfish shrew to her brother. Yes, he was the favored child and yes, the way Val was treated by her parents was despicable, but the way she treats her brother is just as bad. She’s vile to him simply because she’s bitter, acting very much like her mother must have acted towards her. And let’s discuss her mother – the woman is a caricature of bad, ice queen, mentally disturbed mothers everywhere. Not one redeeming quality and even her evilness was a complete bore. Val’s relationship with her brother gets better, but we never actually see her treating him better. She just seems to come to the conclusion that he’s not such a bad guy after all.
Val is an immature brat and I don’t see her doing any growing in this book. When Jake, for good reasons, decides to go back to Kosovo, she gets petulant and gives him an ultimatum. Logically, it’s easy to understand that she is frightened for his life but her complete lack of understanding, supposedly knowing and loving him and understanding what is going on over there, is appalling.
My main problem with the book, however, is the poor writing. It’s formal and stilted and no one speaks as these characters speak. They’re wooden and it’s impossible to care about them. There is not one character in this book with whom I could identify or care about. Situations are resolved a too easily and too many things are simply explained away. No other character, with the exception of Val, is fleshed out. Every character is like a cardboard cut-out – flat and lifeless. I try to find one positive thing in a book I didn’t like, but I can’t do that here. Trust me, there are far better ways to spend $24.95 (hardcover).