Tuesday, June 3

M.J.Rose: The Reincarnationist - A Novel of Suspense

After a life threatening incident a man starts experiencing the, increasingly vivid, memories of two other men in vastly different times. When modern medicine is unable to explain what is happening to him, his search for an explanation leads him to the Phoenix Foundation, an institute dedicated to documenting accounts of past life experience in children.
The lead researcher there tells him his memories are those of past lives and convinces him to work for the Foundation. Over the course of his time there he is exposed to hundreds of cases of children with past life memories but still can not bring himself to believe that is what he is experiencing.
When taken on an archaeological dig in Rome the frequency and intensity of his memories gain momentum, particularly after he witnesses a murder and the theft of ‘memory stones’ (ancient relics believed to be able to allow a person to remember all their lives). Suddenly modern events start to parallel those of his memories and the body count starts to rise.
He leaves Rome and goes to New York hoping to leave all the trouble behind him, only to find himself entangled in more past life experiences (those of his own past life and that of a woman who was his sister in an earlier life) and in the middle of a kidnapping negotiation (a friend’s child is snatched and the kidnapper wants the memory stones in exchange for her life). Fortuitously his new acquaintance’s past life memories reveal to him the whereabouts of a second set of memory stones.
In an elaborate ploy he steals the second set of stones and saves the child, managing to right the wrongs of his past life sister at the same time.
As a fan of reincarnation stories I was quite pleased to find that this, though a stand alone novel, was part of a series. That, of course, was before I read it. Its' problems are myriad and I put it down a number of times with no intention of picking it up again but the book held a compelling fascination. Like a train wreck, I didn’t want to know but I just had to look. As a result I actually finished it and so didn’t miss the worst ending to a novel ever.
Perhaps the editor was hassling the author for the book so they wrapped it up quickly, maybe they lost interest in it and ended it just to be done, or most likely, the book itself couldn’t take it anymore and so ended itself to spare the reader further pain. To say it was a disappointing end is unnecessarily flattery.
But to address the rest of the story:
I was unable to connect with any of the characters. And we do get to meet them all. We learn the background of every character that appears in the book, no matter how small their cameo. As for the main character it is hard to decide what I hated about him most but I think it was his savant like ability to refuse to believe in his past life memories in spite of the truckload of proof he is being buried under. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the author played up him questioning his own sanity, as it was his brief worries about his state of mind only throw into sharp relief his mulish stubbornness.
The unnecessarily complex plot’s extraordinary reliance on coincidence is remarkable (for example the past life sister subplot). In real life coincidences happen, in a novel they come across as contrived.
The switch between past and present subplots was jerky. And the past life story is infinitely more interesting than the present day one. Though that might be a function of the limited glances we have of it.
We are, purposely it seems, distanced from the story. The majority of the action is told rather than shown making it difficult to be engaged by the story even if you really wanted to be (which at the beginning I did). And the pacing was flat. Even the time honoured suspense inducing method of giving the characters a deadline couldn’t increase the tension in this self proclaimed Novel of Suspense.
I could go on but I might never stop. I really think this author over reached themselves. They had a great premise but not the skill to carry it off. Which is a crying shame, because I love reincarnation themed stories. If you do too have a look at Barbara Erskine’s Lady of Hay. Well written, well researched and with the two stories relatively neatly woven together it is everything this book tries to be but is not. Avoid this book like the proverbial plague.-Lynn


Alex and Lynn Ward said...

Lynn, I can't remember the last time I actually snorted aloud at a review - everyone in the library turned to look at me! I am, of course, referring to your suggestion that "The Reincarnationist" took its' own life to spare the reader further distress - brilliant!
Not that I in way doubt your review, but I almost feel as though I have to read it myself. You make it sound like the unmissable literary (if I can extend a compliment to it) equivalent of "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". And now I feel much less pain about the odd dreadful novel I've read recently. Danke - Alex

Alex and Lynn Ward said...

Don't do it Alex.
I took one for the team here. Don't make my sacrifice meaningless.
Spare yourself and warn your family.

Alex and Lynn Ward said...

I appreciate your sacrifice, and will warn random strangers to avoid it - run!!!