Portrait of Stella by Susan Wuthrich
I received this book for free from net-galley. From the blurb, I was expecting a sweet historical romance with a touch of mystery, and I’m not sure I’d catergorise it as any of those genres. I would call it a good old fashioned sweeping family saga. (I’m sure some of you have worked it out, but I haven’t yet garnered an idea of how long a book is when I view it in the ebook format.) I’m not complaining, mind you, as I enjoyed the book immensely.
The book’s narrator is the Stella from the title’s daughter, Jemima, who sets out to discover the truth about her father when a government employee questions the authenticity of her birth certificate.
The story slowly unfolds as Jemima travels to various places in England, New Zealand, and South Africa. We learn how Stella is linked to just about every other character the writer introduces. (I did like this; it annoys me when writers introduce characters for no apparent reason.)
A lot of the action is told via flashbacks, with the year marked in the title of each. I did not find this distracting at all, and the placement of the flashbacks was done well enough that the story continued to flow seamlessly.
Wuthrich’s writing lacks pretension and is easy to read. However, I do believe, due to the scope of the plot, the book is extremely ambitious. Apart from the various characters and settings, the timeline of the plot calls for scenes set just prior to and during WW2, to just following that war when the festering illness that would eventually become Apartheid was emerging, to 1983 when South Africa was fully steeped in that same civil rights insanity. In fact, the novel could have easily been cut up into a series of separate books concentrating on just one set of characters at a time. (I especially liked the plot involving a character named Sannie, and would have happily read an entire book focusing on her life.)
There were moments I thought Wuthrich could have benefited slightly from the ‘show not tell’ style, and think this was a direct result of her trying to cram so much in. But, for the most, I really liked the book and would recommend it. 4/5