Synopsis: Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.
Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know. (From Goodreads)
I had a hard time getting into this book. I read about fifty pages and then set it aside to read a few other books. Then I went back to it and trudged through another fifty pages. Then suddenly I found myself completely sucked in. I didn't like Briony at first - I don't think you're supposed to. She hates herself so much and she's so bent on making sure she hates herself that I was completely frustrated by her. But then as Eldric begins to draw her out of her home and her own mind she begins to become much more like-able. When I actually started to care what happened to her, I was very invested in her story.
This book was a finalist for the National Book Awards (re-call the Shine/Chime controversy of November...) and it's not hard to see why. It is of such high literary quality - it's expertly written and it takes great risks in experimenting with writing style - with narrative style. There was one quote that I pulled out of the story that by the end I realized held the key to the entire book (at least for me). Briony muses, "That's what stories do. They connect the random dots of life into a picture. But it's all an illusion. Just try to connect the dots of life. You'll end up with a lunatic scribble" (p. 64). The plot is one thing, but there's this underlying aspect of storytelling and it's purposes. This quote held the entire book together - it ties the plot and all the underlying meanings together.
It was hard to get into, but the end was worth it. This is one to pick up and stick with because it really is something extraordinary.