A Dress the Colour of the Sky by Jennifer Irwin
Published by Glass Spider Publishing
Format: Hardcover (PDF)
Length: 322 pages
Release Date: 17 October 2017 (Hardcover)
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I would like to thank the Author for a copy of her book for an honest review.
Synopsis via Goodreads: For too many years, Prudence Aldrich has been numbing the pain in her life with random sexual encounters. Her marriage to cold, self-centered Nick is, not surprisingly, on the rocks. But after several dangerous experiences with strangers, Prudence finally realizes that she needs therapy to stop her self-destructive behavior, and so she checks into the Serenity Hills rehab center.
Prudence blames herself for her irresponsible behavior and is filled with self-loathing. She’s convinced she’s totally at fault for Nick’s manipulative attitude and that, with therapy, she can return their relationship to its idyllic beginning. However, her therapist and the other members of her rehab group see the person behind the pain. As Prudence learns more about herself and the reasons for her behavior—including startling revelations about her childhood—she begins to understand the basis for her lack of sexual self-respect. She also learns that she’s not entirely to blame for the failure of her marriage. With the positive reinforcement from everyone at Serenity Hills, Prudence learns not to define herself by her past. But moving forward would mean letting go of Nick for good—and Prudence isn’t sure she can.
Please keep in mind that my reviews are of my own opinion and reading experiences.
I really wanted to like this book. The synopsis sounded different than my usual book choices, so when it was brought to my attention I was excited to delve into uncharted territory. Overall, my experience reading Jennifer Irwin’s debut novel A Dress the Color of the Sky was not positive, but I would like to take a few moments to explain why.
To begin, I want to applaud Irwin for tackling such a difficult and complicated topic for her first novel. She has obviously put a lot of time and research into understanding the various forms of addiction being experienced by her characters. However, I had numerous issues with certain aspects of this book that made my time reading the book unenjoyable. These issues revolved specifically around writing style, dialogue, and written descriptions.
The writing style is fairly abrupt and unfocused. I found it difficult to follow along with the story as it jumped between events with quick succession. When an interesting event would take place (for instance, the sailing race with Prudence and her childhood friend) it would be over so fast that I was left unsatisfied. The story progressed so quickly in both the ‘past’ and ‘present’ chapters that, as a reader, I felt dragged along. After a while, I felt so bombarded with various snippets of Prudence’s life and time in rehab that I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters or plot. It very quickly became boring and predictable.
The next issue I had, the book’s dialogue, was something I disliked from the very first page. While Irwin’s novel has a diverse cast of characters, they were all tremendously two dimensional due to their flat and robotic dialogue throughout the novel. I felt that the author was attempting to insert aggression and anger in the speech of characters such as Richard (Prudence’s stepfather) and Nick (her husband) but it came off sounding forced and corny. The rest of the characters, outside of Alistair (who I will get to in a moment), sounded exactly the same — flat, boring, forgettable. Prudence did not win my heart like she was meant to. I admit that I felt absolutely nothing towards her. How Prudence’s voice was read in conversations was the ultimate downfall of her character’s development. As an example, Prudence didn’t speak any differently between childhood and adulthood. If it wasn’t for her adult chapters taking place in rehab I probably would have confused the two eras in her life. There were no reasons for me to sympathise or connect with her as she simply did not feel real. Poorly written dialogue creates flat, unlikeable, and unrelatable characters. If everyone sounds the same, how can I properly connect with them?
The exception to this was Alistair, who was an issue all on his own. As someone living in England for the past couple years, I feel I have become well versed in British stereotypes versus actual British culture. American media has created a caricature of the ‘prefered’ Britsh man — often influenced by characters played by British actors such as Hugh Grant and Jude Law. They’re usually posh, from London, and speak with an array of overused slang terms (‘bloody hell’ being an offender in this book) and beginning sentences with “one” (ie. ‘one might think’). All of these qualities can be found in the character of Alistair who reads like the typical American stereotype of a Britsh man. It goes without saying that this drove me a bit crazy and felt like incredibly lazy writing. Alistair was my least favourite character (even though I’m sure I was intended to feel this way about Nick or Richard) and I honestly began to skim any pages that he made an appearance on. Another thing that didn’t sit well with me was Prudence and Alistair’s first conversation. After hearing Alistair’s accent, Prudence gawks “Are you from London?” (pg. 57). And of course, being the British stereotype he is, Alistair replies that yes, he is from Kensington. Becuase of course he is. He then goes on to state that it’s “bloody hot” that he wanted to “nip” his addiction before it got out of hand, and how “horrid” something was. And just in case you forget he’s British, there was a “bloody hell” and “cheers” thrown in there for good measure. And this was only over the span of two pages. As he is a fixture in Prudence’s life at rehab, his awkward dialogue made an unfortunately frequent appearance.
The final issue I wanted to highlight was lack of description. This book has very little text that isn’t dialogue. There isn’t enough time spent describing a scene, a smell, a feeling. When I read a book I want to be transported into the same room as the characters. I want to feel like I’m a part of their experience and living in their world. I felt that this was not accomplished through the heavy, poorly written dialogue and could have benefited from more descriptions of the places and people that Prudence interacted with beyond shallow and basic observations. Without successfully painting any of the scenes, the characters all seemed to exist in a vacuum. I never felt like I really understood Prudence’s environments and the places that she lived. I wanted to know more about Prudence’s school and the various homes that she lived in. The story moved so fast that nothing could be fleshed out. The book relied too much on characters speaking to one another in quick, flat dialogue. And it’s a real shame because I feel that if this area of the book was improved upon it would have left a more pleasant taste in my mouth.
Needless to say, I did not finish reading A Dress the Color of the Sky. At page 242 I stopped and never looked back. Because of this, I have awarded this book a rating of one out of five stars.