Saturday, October 24, 2009

Seducing the Spirits by Louise Young

I have a serious conflict regarding my opinion of this novel. Jenny, a graduate student in ornithology, travels to Panama to study eagles. She has contact with a group of native peoples known as the Kuna. The story held my interest, and I never thought of giving up, but I kept tripping over several things which lessened my enjoyment.

I saw four parts to this novel – each with strengths and weaknesses.

Jenny seemed an interesting and resourceful character, but her obsession with sex and romance did not fit the personality Young draws. Many parts of her narrative appeared frantic, as if she had to yell at the reader to get her point across.

Second, the missionary story troubled me. While I agree with the portrayal and Jenny’s attitude toward this slimy character, her response to, and fear of him puzzled me. Mysteriously, she also seriously misinterprets the reaction of the Kuna to his leaving.

Third, the jacket notes tell us Young wanted to write a “National Geographic style travelogue.” She seems to learn the customs of the Kuna haphazardly, almost accidentally, yet she becomes one of them. Her predecessor, Brian, warns her not to “piss off the natives,” and she becomes so worried about this advice, she jeopardizes her good relationship with the Kuna. She follows his advice, despite the fact she has a deep-seated skepticism about Brian.

Lastly, her job as an ornithologist and her status as a graduate student seemed the weakest part of the novel. Jenny is frequently bored and surprisingly ill-informed. Her use of language doesn’t fit a graduate student, since her speech is littered with clich├ęs. She questions the species of the eagle she watches, and fears no one would believe her. Did she never hear of a camera?

I like realistic characters and situations in my novels, and these details bothered me. If you are not as picky as I am, and you like an interesting adventure/romance novel, I strongly recommend this first effort by Young. But for me -- Three stars

--Chiron, 10/19/09

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