[Review] “Book of Mirrors” by E. O. Chirovici – a completely disappointing mystery novel
I read this book because of a personal interest. The author, E. Chirovici, was a Romanian writer who caused quite the stir with The Book of Mirrors, his first novel written in English and published to an international public – novel which became a sensation overnight. I, too, am an aspiring Romanian author and I’ve been working on my mystery novel for more than two years, hoping to someday publish it to an English audience. You can see why I’d be instantly hooked by the premise. I had very high hopes before reading this book. They were shattered from the first 20 pages or so.
My main disappointment regarding The Book of Mirrors is that it doesn’t feel like reading a book at all. In fact, it’s not even a summary of the book; more like the short version retelling of a plot. For example, more than three quarters of the conversations aren’t even dialogues. They’re exposition. Characters go around investigating and meet someone who has info. What follows is not lines of conversation; but endless paragraphs of “She said that…”, “He told me about…”, followed by something that’s supposed to incite my interest, such as “She seemed distant”, “He seemed to be lying/hiding what he knew”, “Something seemed strange” etc.
How am I supposed to feel that the character is lying if I don’t get to hear that character at all? How would I believe that? I am ok with occasional retelling of conversations in books if I already know what the subject is or if the dialogue doesn’t add anything to the story in terms of character development. But an entire novel made up of that? How am I supposed to care? The whole book is a massive telling of the story, with very short bursts of showing along the way. The showing parts were all right and kept me hooked. The telling parts felt like an endless chronicle of high school history books. This, in turn, affected the story in two ways.
First of all, the pacing was horrid. All chapters felt the same, the paragraphs were all of the same consistency, there was no climax whatsoever towards the end of the book – in short, it was monotonous from start to finish. I kept waiting for things to happen. They didn’t. And it wasn’t because the murder had taken place 30 years before the story. I’ve read plenty of mysteries with murders from the past. None of them were so covered in passive voice and summaries as The Book of Mirrors. And that’s because of point number two.
There was no anchoring whatsoever in this story. There were many references to musicians or sports players or world events happening in 1987 and subsequent years, but it was almost as if the author had read those and pasted them unto a hollow book to make it seem authentic. It wasn’t. These references had nothing to do with the story or the characters. They were just there. When the characters go to a pub or coffee shop, I want to feel as if I’m there with them, I want to hear the clamor they’re hearing, I want to taste what they’re tasting. Instead, I was just told they go to a pub. The end. Oh wait, no. I also got treated to endless lines of what wine the professor was drinking and what cigarettes the other characters were smoking. What a vivid image! I obviously care about the brand, not the taste!
Then the characters. Oh boy. There were three different narrative perspectives (four if you also count the literary agent) and they were all the same. Except maybe Richard Flynn, the author of the manuscript. He was the worst and his narration was in the beginning. What a joy! Had I not known about the success The Book of Mirrors had, I would have given up reading after 40 pages or so. It was just dull. Bleak. Boring. There were so many useless details about these characters’ past lovers and families and I kept hoping that maybe, maybe they would prove to be lies, or they would turn up to be relevant to the story, or at least they’d show some character development. Very few did. The others seemed to be there only to fulfill a certain checklist. Oh, you want to become invested in a character? Let me tell you about his boring childhood and family that has no relevance to the plot whatsoever and maybe add in there a girlfriend or ex-wife they’re no longer with so maybe you’d care about them. (Hint: you don’t, since you barely see anyone do anything. Everybody is passive!). Extremely few pieces of information actually paid off. And it wasn’t because the truth was hidden behind red herrings or buried inside a pit of ‘might-be-relevant-information’. It was because there was just so much junk info in this novel, it felt like it needed a very serious case of decluttering and cutting off pages and pages of exposition.
And finally, the theme of memories.
There was just so much potential for this book. The theme could have taken it to such depths if only – if only! – it was a bit expanded on. Especially since it is crucial to solving the mystery. But since it’s so underdeveloped, in the end I was left with the bitter taste that it had all been a gimmick. I couldn’t take the novel seriously. Not when it tried touching on a very subtle subject, but didn’t have the courage to detail it. I associate memories with anchoring: smell, taste, sounds, visuals, a certain texture, a certain line out of place. None of that was used in The Book of Mirrors. There was no evocative aspect. It was all told. As if I could believe it with no proof. And there’s just so much talk about memories and how they can trick you, but it’s never ever shown! I just have to believe it and be wowed.
All in all, it’s been a while since reading something that left me so disappointed. I blame both the hype surrounding the novel plus my expectations of it, and the fact that it was so badly written. I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t care about the plot. I cared about the theme and the whodunnit and whydunnit, but was left completely indifferent by the solution. It felt cheap.