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A Painted House, a novel by John Grisham ( book review and recommendation by @bookmagiclove)

Back when I was a student, there was a  professor who used fragments of texts from John Grisham's novels for our translation courses. That's how I first read Grisham, but even in that odd fragmented form, he had caught my attention. I was determined to read more of him and I surely enough I did just that. Now I am here with a rather long review of one of his novels. A Painted House is a beautiful historical novel, one that I can gladly recommend. Told from a perspective of a boy, this novel took me back to my childhood. It made me care about the characters and what happened to them. Perhaps I could go as far as to say, it got under my skin.


A Painted House, a novel by John Grisham  ( book review and recommendation by @bookmagiclove)


Books are magic. That much I'm sure of.  Take this one, for example, it allows you to revive your childhood as a seven year old boy picking cotton in rural Arkanas, USA. I have never picked cotton as a child, but I harvested lavender and that's a pretty hard core manual labour, so perhaps I even felt like I could relate a bit. It made me think of my own childhood. That is not all, though. The way the book is written makes it very easy to relate to all the characters. In addition, the writer does a great job of transporting us into the past. I felt like I stepped back in past and it felt good. 



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The narrator of this book is a young boy, but it doesn't mean that the narration is boring or lacking in perception. Is he a realistic character? Some might say that there is no way that a seven year old could be as perceptive as the protagonist of this book yet I would beg to disagree. There are a lot of seven year old who are very perspective and intelligent. Moreover, this boy (an only child) spends most of his time with adults (lives in a farm house with his parents and grandparents) so his clever reflections don't seem that far fetched. Kids who spent a lot of time with adults are often 'wise beyond their years'. Besides, Grisham was really clever with writing here, stopping at some points, making it clear that a child didn't understand something, but writing the dialogues in a way that we (as readers) could easily understand them. For that cleverness,  the writer deserves a bit of praise. In many ways, this novel is so well written. 




Most of the time, the narrator seems very credible. Still, there were some instances where the child's reflections seemed a bit too mature, but if we imagine that it is a story of an adult who wants to retell the story through the eyes of a child (the way he experienced it at that time) then it is pretty much perfect. The pace of the novel is very pleasant. The characters really grew on you. It was easy for me to relate to all family members in this novel. The successful portrayal of this family (and even of family dynamics) certainly adds to the literary merit of this novel.


A Painted House, a novel by John Grisham  ( book review and recommendation by @bookmagiclove)



As far as historical writing goes, this novel is one of the best I've read so far. You can certainly feel the historical atmosphere. The characters do seem to belong to that particular historical time and place. Not only the words of the characters, but their thoughts and mental processes do seem to belong to that time. I was very impressed with the way Grisham makes us travel back in time. I suppose it could also be said that the author kept the writing simple, he doesn't reach much  for poetic language or complex sentences. I think that was a good choice as well.


The setting and the descriptions are pretty straight-forward. The writing is for most part very simple. I don't mind that. There are a lot of details, though. It seems that Grisham is one of those authors who live by 'write what you know'. He does it very well in this one. Grisham drew from his childhood experiences to write this one. Nothing wrong with that. It only adds to the credibility of this novel. Using his own memories, he paints a past world quite successfully.



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A Painted House is almost a nostalgic work. I stress 'almost' because there are no embellishments or romanticizing of the period in question. The farmers don't have it easy, that much is certain. Even the narrator who is only a child is able to see the graveness of situation. The uncertainty hangs over everything. Farmers are constantly worried. Most of them will probably have to leave the South to be able to support their families. You do get a feeling of being in a different place and time but not in a sentimental way. A Painted House feels like a very realistic representation of what life of a cotton farmer had been like in that time period. Nevertheless, it is a surprisingly warm novel. It manages to be emotional without being sentimental.




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The only thing I didn't like at all was the ending. Since the ending is really important, that was a let down. I have to say, I do think the book would have been even better without the murder element. I don't think it is a spoiler to say there is a murder in this book, because this piece of information is listed on the covers itself. I won't get into any details, though. I will just say that the murder felt out of place. By the end of the book, I felt there was something missing. There was no closure. If there was no murder, then we wouldn't have needed a closure.


 Maybe it would have been better if the author kept this novel about the fate of that farm family (and maybe developed it a bit more)? If we got to know a bit more about the other son, the one fighting in Korea? Now, that I think about it, I'm not so crazy about the plot either. You have all these new interesting characters introduced, but we don't learn what happens to them. The things that were supposed to be driving the plot weren't of that much interest to me. I was more fascinated by the community and the family dynamics (the mother of the boy is a very interesting character). 





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A Painted House, a novel by John Grisham  ( book review and recommendation by @bookmagiclove)


Perhaps Grisham is not wildly talented, but he is a pretty good writer. That's my impression. His writing is solid. Even if there were some details I didn't like, I have to say that this novel always feels real enough. There is something very descriptive about Grisham's writing. You can just imagine it all. Reading his novels feels a bit like seeing a film. He has a way of bringing images to life and that's not a bad thing. Not at all. It takes talent to write like that, that much I'm certain of. 


I'm a bit torn about grading this one, because as the plot progressed I almost stopped enjoying it ( I won't get into details so that I can avoid spoilers). I can't say that I didn't enjoy the book at all, not even towards the end when everything seemed to fall apart a little. It seems to me that this novel could have been a lot better with a few small changes, but I'm ready to give it 4 stars (that's how I graded it on goodreads, 4 out of 5) even if I feel that the book didn't fulfill its full potential.



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 To sum up, I liked both the characters and the setting but I cared little for the plot and the suspense it tried to create. There was suspense, however, but not exactly plot driven. For me the suspense was more character drive, that is,  I cared a lot about this farmer family and as a reader that helped to keep my interest. The world that Grisham's created got under my skin. I cared about the farmers and the Mexican's workers. I cared about the community. Any writer who can make a reader care about his characters has pretty much accomplished his task, even if he messes up some other things, he still wrote a good book. That is why I won't be strict with this novel. Sure, the ending was a disappointment, but all in all, I do think this book is very good. As far as historical writing goes, it feels very credible. I'm really happy that I got to read this novel. It is a truly unique story. 















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