Book Review: 1892 by Paul Butler

1892 by Paul Butler1892 by Paul Butler

Pennywell Books (imprint of Flanker Press, St. John’s, NL, Canada)

Published: June 2008

ISBN: 978-1-897317-28-0

Price: $16.95 (paperback; 165 pages)

Genre: Historical Fiction (romance)

About the Author: Paul Butler is the author of several novels including Cupids, Hero, NaGeira, Easton’s Gold, Easton and Stoker’s Shadow. Born in the UK, he currently lives in St. John’s, NL.

Author’s Website: http://www.paulbutlernovelist.com

THE REVIEW

Cover (4/5): The cover suited the book. It grabbed my attention while at the bookstore hunting for a Christmas gift for my mother. I specifically targeted books about Newfoundland because she’s from there. I found the cover uncluttered, and I could easily read the title and the author’s name.

Title (3/5): The title didn’t tell me much except for whatever happened probably occurred in 1892. Because of the illustrations, I assumed the story had something to do with a fire that took place that year and about a woman who may have been involved. Single word titles can be affective, but this one wasn’t.

Back Cover Blurb (2/5): In 1892, critically acclaimed novelist Paul Butler plunges the reader into 19th century St. John’s, its light and its shade . . .

An obscure servant, Kathleen, yearns for her home in Ireland. A mysterious scientist, Dr. Glenwood, believes he can be the first to bring a new photographic discovery to the world. A stable hand, Tommy Fitzpatrick, battles inner demons as he tries to win Kathleen’s heart.

St. John the Baptist Anglican Cathedral
St. John the Baptist Anglican Cathedral, St. John’s, NL: The construction of the church took place in 1847. It burnt in the 1892 fire and was rebuilt soon after by the son of the original architect, George Gilbert Scott.

Comment: The cover blurb tells me what I’ll learn within the book, but it doesn’t arouse any feelings. A servant girl from Ireland, a stable hand and a scientist (nutty, not mysterious, would better describe him) are generic…perhaps something like this would draw more readers: Kathleen, a young servant, yearns for her homeland, but Ireland is far from St. John’s, Newfoundland. When she searches for a gift to send home to her younger sister, she meets a man who both terrifies and intrigues her. The stable hand Tommy Fitzpatrick is also searching, not for a gift but a beautiful woman to help tame the demons battling within his soul. The couple’s romance sparks more than the fire burning within their hearts.

First Sentence (3/5): The music-box ditty is reawakened by a distant echo of hooves somewhere down on Water Street.

Comment: This sentence put my mind in present tense which confused me later when I had to read in past tense. The sound of music mixed with hooves conjured-up rhythm. Is it a great hook sentence? Not particularly, but it does give us something to look forward to.

Spelling, Grammar, POV, text errors (4/10): I found very few of these errors. My biggest beef was with tense; this was the reason for the low score. When my mind began to settle into the story, believing it took place yesterday, only to be jerked to the present and then back to the past, it disturbed the rhythm of reading…for me. Each time the author tossed me into the present, I had to stop, think and wonder where I was. It kicked me out of the story for a few seconds, once for an entire minute as I grappled with why he would do this.

Anything I’ve ever read on tense argues against switching back and forth in a single story/novel. Now I know why. It disturbs the flow, and if you’re like me, it becomes annoying.

Page 63; Paragraph 4 and the start of the next chapter: Louisa looked up at me. “You see? Who would steal for me?”…next chapter, same page: My stomach swirls with bad rum and stale beer. [One scene ended in past tense and the next began in the present.]

Page 93; Paragraph 3: “I am…I am ashamed,” the words came out so distorted I could barely recognize them. [The comma after ashamed should be a period.]

Satisfaction Factor (23/30): The story had a satisfying ending. Though it might not have been what I expected—which is a good thing—the ending didn’t leave me hanging, guessing about what the next page (if written) would have revealed. The story came to a close, which is what I prefer.

St. John's, NL
The shore of St. John’s, NL, from atop Signal Hill.

Engaging story (29/40): The first half of the book kept my attention, but I could easily put it down and go on to do other tasks. If I didn’t get back to it for a few days, I didn’t miss it. I think part of this was due to the lack of interesting chapter titles. They were either Kathleen or Tommy. Nothing more. Butler simply pointed out the person’s point of view you’d be reading which made the format bland.

The last 30 pages did have me reading more often, at times when I should have been writing or weeding the garden. I finished it in a rush, which indicates the author had done his job and had made me want to learn what happened.

I’m not certain there was a real purpose for Dr. Glenwood. He was certainly not important enough to be mentioned in the back cover blurb. If anything, this side plot distracted from the main plot. Perhaps more of the two main characters could have been shared with an increase of conflict between Louisa (the daughter of Kathleen’s employer who had mistakenly received a gift intended for Kathleen) and the couple.

The lack of variety in female names made it confusing at one point (page 160; paragraph 0), when I expected to read Kathleen, but was faced instead with Catherine Molloy and Catherine Stevens. It was not as if it was alphabetical order since Louisa was mentioned directly afterwards, and Kathleen’s name not mentioned at all.

A Sampling of Memorable Sentences

Page 61; paragraph 0: I had learned that the feral creature might be tamed, that with the care and attention of a good woman, he might learn to walk upright like a man.

Page 124; paragraph 2: Yet at the same time, I hovered above both of us, wondering vaguely how far this shabby creature would have to climb to be the man she seemed to want him to be, and how far he was falling from that standard with each further lie.

Final Analysis: Overall Total: 68% (convert into five star rating: 3.4 stars)

Overall, it was a good story. I love reading about Newfoundland and local history. The real fire which took place in St. John’s in 1892 devastated the town. No one knows for certain who started it. If you enjoy delving into the problems of the everyday servant who immigrated to Canada in the 1800s, this book may just be for you.

*To learn more on how this review was created, read The Way I Review Books post.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: 1892 by Paul Butler

    • I shouldn’t say this, but often, I don’t read a book because of who wrote it. I read books solely on the fact that the subject interests me. Local history certainly attracks me, and Paul has several books out. I imagine I’ll find him again in a subject I want to read.

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