Saltsea by David Helwig

The Saltsea is a hotel set on the shores of Prince Edward Island, though there are few references to the place other than a mention of the red mud so it could just as well have been set on any other island. The hotel was once the summer home of a wealthy family whose daughter and grand-daughter play major roles in this story. I figured that with a combination of beach, old hotel and interesting guests I couldn't really lose; I had to like this one.

And it was very promising in the beginning. I was enjoying the writing and characters and thinking how great it was to be once more reading something I didn't want to put down. Then the language deteriorated, the plot took a nosedive and the characters began to get weird until, in the last two chapters, they all just sort of lost their minds, doing things their previous behavior had never even hinted at. I read in a state of stunned confusion as the story descended into the dark underside of the characters lives. There was barely anyone left to like by the end.

Giving credit where credit where credit is due, I will say the authour did a bang-up job of surprising me. I only wish some of the surprises hadn't been unpleasant. By the time I turned the last page most of the characters were annoying at best, disgusting at worst.

I did enjoy some of the writing and found passages I thought particularly meaningful, like these ones...

"It was beautiful, and then gradually it wasn't, and maybe that was the way things would always be."

"...without Eileen to approve or disapprove he wasn't sure what any of his words or actions meant."

"...objectivity was going out of fashion everywhere, the world an apotheosis of vagueness and mood."

I truly wanted to like this book but I find myself in serious need of a story without despair, and this sure wasn't it. Surely there are still authours who can write well, tell a good story, create realistic characters and do it all without a lot of cursing, violence and raunchiness. I know I'm inviting derision here, but seriously aren't there any pleasant books anymore? I loved The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and would like to find more like them. I guess it's a comfort read I'm looking for, but not fluff. I really don't want fluff. 

So please, I'm open to suggestions if you have any. Send lots; I'd love to have a long list of gentle books to choose from for those times when more serious reading leaves me somewhat disenchanted. I patiently, impatiently, eagerly await your recommendations.


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