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Mourning Ruby (2005)

Mourning Ruby (2005)

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3.2 of 5 Votes: 4
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0425200191 (ISBN13: 9780425200193)
berkley trade

About book Mourning Ruby (2005)

Mourning Ruby is more or less about a mother who is grieving the tragic loss of her five-year-old daughter. But the "more or less" part cannot be overlooked. If it weren't for the title and the ominous cover picture featuring a little girl skipping in the leaves in a red dress, the reader would have no idea what this book is about for quite some time. It begins with a prologue that is a dream sequence, told in the first person, of the narrator--Ruby's mother Rebecca--and Ruby walking along a road. I thought that a novel should never open with a dream; it's a cheap technique, too easily and often used. And unfortunately the book continues that way, although a lot of the techniques are more original. After the prologue, Rebecca describes what happened to her when she herself was a baby, which was that her mother left her in a shoebox outside an Italian restaurant. She was then adopted by parents who seem not to care for her much, and the feelings are mutual. She tells her own story in such a removed and distant way that it is hard to relate to her. Plus, the tone of the writing is confusing and the plot starts jumping all over the place. Soon we learn that Rebecca lived with a guy who was in love with her, but those feelings weren't mutual. His name is Joe and he writes historical non-fiction. He's in the middle of writing a book about Stalin's second wife, and this story takes up a good chunk of the first part of the book. That story could be rather interesting, but Joe tells it to Rebecca in a series of long drawn-out conversations, in which he makes clear that she is not interested in what he is talking about. So why should the reader be? I never really figured that out, although I did enjoy reading about collectivist Russia. We also learn that Rebecca has a husband named Adam, but the relationship between them doesn't seem very convincing. He is a doctor who saves newborn babies, ironically. Some things seem like easy plot devices which aren't very realistic-- such as Rebecca working part-time in a bar while her husband is doctoring. Another central sub-plot in Mourning Ruby is the story of Rebecca and her boss, Mr. Damiano, for whom she goes to work after Ruby's death. To me he was the most interesting character and his story was the most captivating, albeit even more unrealistic than the relationship between Rebecca and Adam. His family performed in circuses in Madrid, and his little sister suffered a tragedy almost as devastating as Ruby's death. Mr. Damiano likes to re-create "dream worlds"--obviously a theme underlying the novel--and bring pleasure to people as his business. He owns a chain of hotels, all named after minor to rather obsure poets: Sidney, Lampedusa, Villon, Langland, Sonescu, Cavafy, Sexton, and Bishop. Poetry and written language play a central part in this novel. In fact, an obvious theme is a writer writing about writing, which I found at times to be both interesting and annoying. For instance, each chapter--and many of them are very short--starts out with a rather strange title and a snippet of a poem, excerpt from a book, or folk song. I found these snippets to be distracting because I wanted to know where they came from and how they related to the book and what the rest of the snippet was all about. Like much about the book, this information is never revealed to the reader, except at the very end, when Dunmore includes a list of "sources," which include her own poetry. Also in line with the literary theme, Joe tells Rebecca near the beginning of the book that the Russian poet Mandelstam once wrote about baby airplanes as a metapher for writing poetry: one airplane in full flight gives birth to another airplane, which then flies off and gives birth to another airplane. Dunmore weaves this theme into the novel, as a way to show how one story gives life to another, and all stories are connected. I suppose that Rebecca is trying to find her own life story, but the rather interesting plot line about her birth and her upbringing as an adopted child is abandoned rather early on. It's hard to care about a book when each story drops off after it gives birth to the next one. Ruby's death is the only main theme that continues throughout the book, but it's hard to connect to because so many other stories are swarming around it.Most frustrating of all, for me, wasn't the fact that so many stories were told, but rather it was the way they were told. Much of the prose during Rebecca's narration is beautiful (the jacket cover states that Dunmore is a poet and short story writer, so I might like to check her out in these contexts, in which the language and style might work better for me than it did in a novel). The flowery language, however, seemed to detract from the plot for me and made it hard for me to related to Rebecca as a real character. And some of the stories that had the potential to be the most exciting were told in the dullest manners possible. Mr. Damiano's fascinating life story is told--much like the history of Stalin that Joe is writing--in long strings of conversation, which to me took a lot away from the potential captivating action. I was unsure why Dunmore chose to do this, even though I "got" that she had this over-riding theme of writing about writing, and writing about stories within stories.Mid-way through Mourning Ruby, the point of view changes, and we are seeing Joe, told from the omniscient perspective, without Rebecca there, and also Adam in the same way. To me this was disappointing and destroyed any integrity the novel was supposed to have. It was another easy way out. The last part of the book is part of a novel that Joe sends to Rebecca, ostensibly to help her figure out her own story. I found part of this plot interesting, as it was about a prostitute named Florence who lived in France during the First World War. The Madame of the house was the only strong female character in the book (I thought it was annoying how Rebecca learned everything about herself through the three main male characters), although Florence, by the end portion of Joe's unfinished work of fiction, was starting to develop into a strong character as well. Joe tells Rebecca that he hasn't finished the book and so he encloses character and plot notes, which we the poor readers are forced to suffer through, right when we were into the story of Florence, and quite awhile after we had totally lost track of the story of Rebecca and Ruby.Overall, Mourning Ruby was one of the most discombobulated novels I have ever read. At first it left me feeling disoriented, and then, once I got my bearings, it usually left me feeling disappointed. At times the language was captivating, and at other times the plot was too. These times were nearly canceled out, however, by the parts that seemed to be told in a hurry of rushed dialogue. The concept is certainly ambitious and I like some of the ideas behind the novel, but I think they were executed rather poorly, with style valued much more than substance. I did enjoy the writing theme, but it was much too much: definitely overkill. I enjoyed reading about the different places and time periods. Most of the parts featuring Rebecca--all of which are contemporary--are set in Cornwall, and some in London (Dunmore is a British writer). I also enjoyed reading about historical France and historical and modern-day Russia (where Joe briefly resides and where Rebecca and Adam go to visit him in a rather twisted love-triangle). So I can't say I regret reading this unique book, but it certainly wasn't one of my favorites. I give it two and a half out of five stars.For more book reviews and other posts of interest to readers and writers, please visit my blog More book reviews at Voracia: Goddess of Words

This book is both one of the best I’ve read in a long time and quite disappointing. The excellent part has to do with Rebecca and Adam’s loss of their daughter—and the author treats the subject with sensitivity and heart-wrenching realism. The disappointing part is that a considerable portion of the last half of the book is a short story written by a friend of Rebecca’s. I always feel a bit cheated when an author slips a basically unrelated story into a narrative (A.S.Byatt does this as well). Is this the only way to get the piece published? Did the author run out of steam with the main plot? If I were writing an essay for a college English class I could draw strong parallels between the main narrative and the short story and probably justify it’s inclusion—but really—I’d rather not.

Do You like book Mourning Ruby (2005)?

The first part of this book had me so gripped I couldn't sleep, as former abandoned child Rebecca and her husband Adam mourned the loss of their only daughter. But part way through it became a thoroughly weak tale written by Rebecca's friend Joe, from where it descended rapidly into cliche and plot 'twists' heralded from a mile off. At one point Dunmore so lost interest in telling the rest of Joe's 'plucky prostitute in love with doomed WW1 airman' story she continued it as notes. The best part of the tale is that of Rebecca's boss, a showman-turned-hotelier, but it is treated as a throw-away in order to get back to Joe. By the end I was only continuing to see if the grizzly bears surrounding his writing retreat in Vancouver had got hungry enough to do all disgruntled readers a favour. Best avoided.
—J.C. Greenway

This is a rather frustrating book to me. On the one hand, the writing (in the mechanical sense - sentence and imagery, etc.) is lovely and sometimes breathtaking. On the other hand, the actual story is disappointing. I am not one who requires plot-heavy stories to be satisfied with a book, but I do require something that at least connects in meaningful ways. This one, for me, just didn't. The phrase "the sum of the whole is greater than its parts" comes to mind here, except in the case of "Mourning Ruby", the opposite is true. The parts are much greater than their sum. The author has several little figments of story, each of which could be incredibly interesting if developed. Unfortunately, they aren't. I suppose that could be the point, but it left me feeling cheated. The overall story, which I took to be the main character Rebecca's progress in her grief, didn't connect with me. That arc was disjointed and too vague to make an impression. It could be that I just didn't care much for Rebecca. Another character, Joe, makes a comment at one point that she cares nothing for herself. I did not find that to be the case. I found she was extremely wrapped up in herself with little regard to the fact that her husband, too, had lost a child. I think this is probably natural with grief, and I could have actually embraced that fact had Rebecca been more developed than she was. This was a problem with nearly every character, and I think that's why the overall arc falls flat with me. However, there are parts of this book when Helen Dunmore works magic. Some of the way she shows Rebecca's grief are beautiful. And that's why I finished the book, because of those moments. Unfortunately, the story was too disconnected and vague to leave a very lasting impact on me.
—Heather Wilson

How does this happen? How can an author who writes such stellar books such as The Seige write a dud like Mourning Ruby.One hundred pages into it and I quit, counted my loss and moved along. It was good enough to keep hoping that it would get better. Alas, I was tricked.Checking other reviews, I find the same thoughts as mine, ie too many plots, too many images that float all over kingdom come, too much rambling and way too much convolution.A tragic loss of a five year old child is a substantial plot, yet Dunmore flies all over the place with snipets of characters and their thoughts. If the thoughts don't add to the story, who cares?I hate it when I'm left feeling stupid because I didn't comprehend what the heck she was trying to say.I have no idea what Dunmore was hoping to accomplish. If she was trying to be highly intellectual or highly artistic, she failed.NOT recommended.
—Linda Lipko

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