Review: ‘The Last Time They Met’ by Anita Shreve

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - Save & Share - 4 Comments

Title: The Last Time They Met

Author: Anita Shreve

Published: Abacus, 2001, pp. 360

Genre: Fiction

Blurb: When Linda Fallon and Thomas Janes meet at a writers’ festival in Toronto, it is the first time they have seen each other for twenty-six years.  Theirs is a story bound by the irresistible pull of true passion — a love which begins in Massachusetts in the early 1960s, is rekindled in Kenya in the 1970s, and which is about to play out its astonishing final episode…

Where, when and why: This is another book which seems to have mysteriously appeared on my shelves, as I have no idea where, or indeed why, I bought it.  This isn’t my usual type of book, but I thought a gentle romance might be in order after A Clockwork Orange.  It also counts towards my Books Off the Shelf Challenge.

What I thought: I should have taken it as a warning that I could think of no reason why I might have wanted to read this book, as I’m afraid there’s no nice way to say it, but I didn’t get along with the book at all for a whole host of reasons.  Perhaps it’s partly that, not being a woman in my 50′s dreaming of reconnecting with my childhood sweetheart, I am not exactly the book’s target audience, but I’m erring on the side of it just being bad.  It’s very difficult for me to discus it without some spoilers, but really I think I’m saving you the pain of having to read this book yourselves.

Firstly, there’s the problem of the characters.  Annoyingly, this book decides to skip the bother of character development in favour of the much easier tactic of emotional manipulation.  Compelling, complex and interesting characters clearly aren’t necessary as long as you provide enough trauma and misfortunes in their lives, no?  No.  It seemed that just about everything unfortunate under the sun that could possibly happen to a person had happened to Linda and Thomas in The Last Time They Met: the deaths of parents, spouses and children, rape, terrible accidents (which leave them remarkably unscathed), alcoholic children.  The list goes on, but it would be just as tedious to continue to list them as it was to read about them.  Even more annoyingly, half of these incidents were totally irrelevant to the plot and so it seemed an unnecessarily desperate attempt to add pathos.  As I refused to be taken in by this lazy way of trying to make Linda and Thomas appear relatable, I rather found them irritating, angsty and selfish, which is hardly a winning combination.

Secondly, there’s the plot, which essentially comprises the aforementioned irritating, angsty, selfish characters trying to resist each other, having sex and then being torn apart by circumstances.  However, in order to try and make things different, this book starts at the end when Linda and Thomas meet for the last time and then gradually works backwards through their three encounters.  In some books, this works; this is not one of them.  Usually, books which adopt this technique drop a trail of intriguing hints about what has gone before designed to pique the reader’s interest, but not in this book.  Instead, there are vague references to the past which are neither sufficiently expanded to hook the reader in to want to know the missing details, nor opaque enough to lead the reader to think that something is being deliberately hidden.  It was like standing and listening politely to two people talking about occasions from their shared past, but who never mention any specifics because the two of them don’t need to: I felt excluded but not really all that bothered about being left out because I couldn’t bring myself to be interested.  The way the book ended was truly dire; I’m not going to say what it was, but it was abrupt, unskilled and once again going for shock value over narrative development.  Had I been expecting any better by this point I would have been very disappointed.

Finally, there is the fact that The Last Time They Met takes itself so seriously.  Obviously, given the list of terrible things which happens to the characters, I wasn’t expecting this book to be sweetness and light, but there is no levity at all.  Despite this, the author is prone to saying some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read, which seem all the sillier by dint of being supposedly so weighty.  My absolute favourite has to be this little gem:

But she willed her antennae not to locate Thomas, who must have been behind her or absent altogether.  So that when she was seated at the back of the bus and watched him board, she felt both surprise and embarrassment, the embarrassment for his sudden emasculation, his having to ride a bus as schoolchildren did. (pp. 22-23)

Public transport?  No!  The shame!  The horror!  The sheer, unadulterated girliness.  Clearly nothing is more feminine or juvenile than the bus.  I genuinely have no idea what Anita Shreve was driving at with this pearl of wisdom, but it provided me with the only entertaining moment in the whole book — sadly so early on — so I can only be grateful for its baffling presence.

Where this book is going: It will come as no surprise that this book is not staying with me.  I’ve put it up on BookMooch in the hope that some other poor, unsuspecting individual might want to read it.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that someone out there does.

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4 Responses to “Review: ‘The Last Time They Met’ by Anita Shreve”

Comment from Jessica
Time September 2, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Thats a shame it didnt work fully for you. Ive only read one Shreve novel which was ‘All he ever wanted’ and it didnt make me want to rush out and read another one I have to say.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time September 3, 2010 at 9:15 am

It seems to have been given very good reviews in lots of places online, so perhaps I missed something. Nonetheless, it’s good to hear I’m not the only one less than enamoured of this author.

Comment from Reader
Time November 8, 2011 at 10:24 am

I’ve to respectively disagree to your comment. Never the less all opinions and beliefs are valid, but I believe you didn’t give the book a fair go. If you over analyse a book’s content, you will never really let yourself enjoy the story. From this brilliant novel you learn that the connection between two people in love and there incredible bond, will conquer all. When you love someone a piece of your heart will always belong with them. This extraordinary message put’s faith and hope back into the hearts of those who have been mixed up in the distorted idea, that love is dead. The ending is not “truly dire…abrupt, unskilled and once again going for shock value over narrative development”, it was cleverly written so the ending would not have been predictable. After reading the novel, I believe the dramatic twist at the end, was brilliant. As the novel starts with the emotions of Thomas and Linda finally being together, the reader assumes a happy ending… As you become further immersed into the novel, it reveals the fine details, which allow the reader to be aware of the events of the past. This then leads the reader to the incredible twist at the end, which sends the mind into shock. The twist couldn’t have been foreseen, which is a quality in many novels that is rare. The descriptive language used to describe scenes, allow the reader to have a full understanding of what is happening. The tragedies of the characters lives and the setting of the novel being in a modernised world; lets the reader to connect and relate to the plot. Thomas and Linda’s relation at a young age is similar to that of Romeo and Juliet’s fairy tale; as the two characters are from separate worlds. Their relationship has a very slim chance of actually developing and lasting because of this difference, but their strong love remains. A quote from the novel, which I will never forget; (I had to edit the quote, to ensure I didn’t spoil the incredible ending) “…he has known the unforgiving light of the equator, a love…and the enduring struggle to capture in words the infinite possibilities of a life…” Although this book isn’t for everyone I believe that readers should give this book the opportunity it deserves.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time November 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I’m glad that you enjoyed this book far more than I did. I know Shreve is a popular writer, so it stands to reason that there must be many people out there who share your view. What a good thing there’s such a variety of books out there that everyone can find something that chimes with them.

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