“Does he realise that? It’s us he’s punishing. Not you.”
(from the blurb) Set in the 1950s, The Eloquence of Desire explores the conflicts in family relationships caused by obsessive love, the lost innocence of childhood and the terror of the Communist insurgency in Malaya.
I always struggle with a book where I cannot like any of the characters. George is a horrible man, obsessive in his infidelity and a rapist. Susan is a difficult child, hemmed in between childish naivetë and adult guilt, (all well-portrayed by the author). Dorothy is the obvious sympathy character, hauled half-way around the world thanks to her husband’s misdemeanours, and yet I found her dull, hysterical and lacking much of a spine. The family remain the key characters – while there is some interaction with relatives and colleagues and servants, the focus remains solidly on George and Dorothy, with more and more moving to Susan from the halfway point onwards.
My criticisms of the characters are not criticisms of the writing, which flows well and seems well-informed of the historical and geographical setting. Malaya in the 1950s is a difficult place to convey to a 2011 audience accustomed to south Asian independence, and Sington-Williams conveys the oppressive heat and the fear of the British expatriates well. She also sets 1950s London precisely and concisely on the very first page through the passengers’ smoking on the Underground. However, when the plot returns to England towards the end, I found the accelerated character development, intended to wrap up matters quickly, rough and a little unnecessary.
It should only be a minor factor, but I was underwhelmed by the print quality – I found the book too large, like a textbook, and the paper resembled printer or textbook paper more than the paper I’m used to for fiction books. Maybe the print run is too small for the slightly beige paper I’m accustomed to from mass market paperbacks, but I have to admit that the feel of the book put me off reading it for quite a while. Similarly, I found a heinous typo (sewing for the process of scattering seeds) which added to the feeling of insufficient print quality.
All in all, a historically interesting tale, difficult characters well-set in an exotic environment, but suffering a little from unsatisfactory print quality.