A Writer's Journey

January 21, 2013

Book Analysis: “Violins of Autumn” by Amy McAuley

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
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Been a while since I did one of these, right? Once again, this is not a review but rather me talking about what worked and what didn’t from a writing standpoint. So, spoilers will abound. You have been warned.

“Violins of Autumn” is set in France during the Second World War, specifically 1944. Adele Blanchard, formerly known as Betty, parachutes into the Nazi-held country as a spy working for the British. After one of their colleagues is captured due to his own stupidity, Adele and her remaining colleague Denise must race against the Nazis to reach the Resistance. They are taken in by a kind woman and her son, Pierre. He seems to look down on Adele and Denise for being women and Adele wishes to prove herself. She volunteers to spy on a factory in addition to her tasks as a courier for the Resistance.

Adele and Denise continue on to Paris, picking up a young American pilot named Robbie. He had to bail from his plane and needs help getting back to England. In Paris, they face capture around every corner. Can they succeed in their task and help with the liberation of France?

Is there a new trend where authors are writing in present tense? Personally, I dislike it. And I read something that might explain it. Most readers are so used to reading past tense, present tense requires them to acclimate themselves. Which makes sense. And I can understand McAuley’s decision to use first person. It adds urgency to the story.

But! The story opens with a prologue that includes Adele being tortured by Germans after she’s captured. Which means everything after is technically a flashback. So it should be written in past tense. Or the prologue should be cut. It makes some tense moments seem…less so. For example, there’s a scene where Pierre and Adele blow something up. Due to their proximity, Adele loses her hearing. She worries it is permanent but the reader knows it isn’t. After all, Adele has her hearing in the prologue. So to no one’s surprise, she recovers it by the time they return to Pierre’s house. Oh well.

The story isn’t classified as a romance and it couldn’t be. It doesn’t fit the industry definition (set forth by the Romance Writers of America). A romance requires the relationship to be central to the story, the driving force. For example, let’s take my unpublished novel “The Wedding Game.” The center of the story is Christian and her relationships with Maximilian and Gerard. The promise of marriage between her and Maximilian as well as her growing feelings toward Gerard push everything forward. None of Adele’s romantic relationships (with Robbie and Pierre) push the story.

The other requirement for a story to be considered a “romance” is that there must be either a happily ever after or a happy for now. “The Wedding Game” has one, though I won’t reveal if Christian gets it with Maximilian or Gerard. “Violins of Autumn” doesn’t have one, though I guess one could argue Adele might have a happy for now with Robbie. But Robbie still has to fight and there is only a promise of trying to reunite once the war is over. We don’t know if they do.

Adele and Denise have interesting backstories as Betty and Sarah. Though we learn more about Adele/Betty as she is our narrator. It does seem filled with more angst than usual. A car accident kills her mother and her brother when she is a child. Her father abandons her at a Swiss boarding school to marry someone else. She doesn’t fit in there and is rescued by her mother’s family in England. There she experiences family and happiness again. It’s almost like a fanfiction author trying to gather sympathy for her character and failing. But Ms. McAuley manages to save it. She doles out Betty’s backstory in pieces, when it is natural to the plot.

McAuley’s writing also captures the tension of living in war-torn Paris. I do wish there had been a bit more descriptions but I like what I read.

I do recommend the book. Go, give it a read! It’s one of the better YA books I’ve read so far.

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