“As The Crow Flies” by Jeffery Archer is my latest literary conquest, albeit an easy one. The six hundred succinct pages chronicling nearly seventy years and traversing multiple continents left me singularly uninterested. Were it not for book club obligations, I must confess that I would have put down the book within a few chapters. While I am able to compliment Mr Archer on his ability to grapple with the breadth, twists and turns of the complexity of relating a 70 year drama, I have little else to recommend the book – particularly to someone who shares my particular taste in literature.
The novel tells the story of Charlie Trumper and his adventures from London East End fruit-and-vegetable man selling on a street corner to owner of “the world’s largest store” – a complex the size of a city block comprising everything from fruits and vegetables to a bank and travel agency. His journey begins in the early 20th century, passing through two world wars and a myriad of familial drama involving his wife, Becky, his stepson (and illigitimate child of his archenemy) Daniel, and his rivals the Guy Trentham family.
The drama comes complete with an incestuous relationship, cowardice on the battlefield, murder, suicide and deception – and yet I was bored for at least 500 of the 600 pages. The characters – in spite of nearly 70 years worth of growth – were one dimensional. There was a distinct lack of emotional depth to the characters, and the story itself was told from a rather cold third person. Even the brief sections of first person narrative were passionless in recounting their respective adventures. My personal bias leads me to connect this to the rather brusque writing style – my personal preference being for a more artful and poetic style.
Much of the time I felt lost in the technical jargon of stock options and business legalese, when what I was craving was to know the characters on a far more personal level. The wide brush strokes necessary to cover decades of events feel crude, however well crafted the shape of the story.
The mystery and drama felt all too predictable. The drama was not dramatic enough, the tragic not tragic enough and the romance not passionate enough. While the reader is somewhat led to believe that Mr. Trumper’s successes were the result of overcoming great obstacles, these obstacles were overcome in the matter of a few pages with seemingly little trial and no angst or any other emotion on the part of the protagonists.
Perhaps the chief disappointment of the entire novel was the treatment of the most tragic moment of the novel. The Trumper’s bright and promising only son, Daniel, discovers that his finace (who he believes to be pregnant with his child) is actually his half sister – they share a mutual father, the archenemy of his parents – which leads Daniel to commit suicide by hanging himself in his office at Cambridge. The affair read more as a poorly acted soap opera rather than a great tragedy – the finace/half-sister suffers from amnesia as a result, which nearly risks her loosing her inheritance and almost looses Charlie his company – and yet the overwhelming sorrow of the event is brushed under the rug without so much as a sniffle on the part of the reader.
I feel obligated to apologize for my rather harsh review as a starter. I recognize that I am truly a literary snob at heart. While I’m sure many would greatly enjoy Charlie Trumper’s tales of victory over the upper classes, this book will not make my “to read again” list.
Wishing you blessings & good reads