Book Review: Jubilee

I feel bad for what I'm about to write.

I wanted to like this book, especially after reading how personal it is for the author. I wanted to fall in love with the characters and the prose and feel something for a character who's been through hell. Unfortunately I got nothing.

The premise of this story is intriguing. A young woman, Bianca, cares for a doll that looks like an infant as if the doll was an infant. Feeding, changing, carseats, the whole shebang. Of course, that in itself removes the suspense from the hinted-at inciting incident - clearly Bianca has lost a real child. I felt like the story danced around this point unnecessarily, or at least didn't handle the nuance deftly enough to make it feel like a question worth answering. Could have been better, but not terrible in itself.

What lost me was the writing. And I hate to say this, because sometimes it was there, but when it wasn't, man.

Bianca is a poet, and her point of view reflects this. Her language is flowery, her touchstones are literary, her perspective drifts and sways. I didn't love the way she was written (matter of fact, I found the first chapter really hard to get into), but I knew what the intent was and could go along with it. But having her point of view contrasted with that of her partner Joshua was brutal.

Joshua is the practical character. Joshua is the normal guy. Joshua is the lens we are meant to view crazy Bianca through, the lens of outsiders looking in. I can forgive him for insta-love because all romance tropes suck, but I can't forgive him for being so bland. So forgettable. Maybe the contrast was the point but I just hated it. For the most part, his character was written like he wasn't worth giving a shit about. He had moments where he waxed poetic too, such as his musings on the island of dolls, though even those scenes only served to make the rest feel weak. He was poorly drawn compared to Bianca and even Gabe, Bianca's ex, and given his function as a point-of-view character, this was frustrating. Every time I reached one of his scenes I just wanted it to be over.

That actually sums up how I felt about the book in general: I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to get to the end, get to the good part, get to the point where the journey paid off, because the journey felt tedious. I didn't want it to feel tedious but it did. I just couldn't get into the narrative. Maybe it's because the whole concept is predicated on the assumption that Bianca is crazy and I didn't believe she was. Wounded, yes. Coping, yes. But never did I think she wasn't going to find her way back.

I also didn't love the structure of the book, which jumped between then and now. Again, it just didn't feel like the unanswered questions deserved such weight. We know Bianca's lost a child in the first chapter, even if we don't know how. We know her father died under dark circumstances and the suicide revelation doesn't really change anything. They're fine plot points and perhaps would have worked better if handled with more brevity, but to me the payoff wasn't worth it.

Also, the ending. Talk about a lack of payoff. And by the ending I mean the climax, where Bianca lets her doll-child drift out to sea and saves Joshua instead. It was a decision but not really a decision, because Bianca knew all along that her doll wasn't her real baby and of course she'd save a real person over a toy. And if there was still supposed to be unresolved tension between the two after what Joshua said about Bianca's doll, well. See above where I say Bianca knew all along her doll was just a doll.

Overall it was a long, drawn-out, forgettable read. Maybe just not the right book for me.