Skip to main content

Review: The Russian Concubine, by Kate Furnivall

I probably shouldn’t even be writing this review, as I didn’t finish it. Well, I got through 350 pages before throwing in the towel, but only because I had nothing else to read with me at the time. I was intrigued by the premise, about a young Russian girl in China in the 1920s, and her relationship with a native Chinese. But from there, it quickly went downhill.

First of all, the prose is pretty overwrought, littered with one-word, repetitive sentences that were very choppy. There were lots of writing clichés (of the “he could feel into her soul” variety”). The writing actually gave me a headache at some places.

There were also problems with the plot and characters. I simply didn’t feel emotionally invested in any of these characters’ stories, particularly Lydia, who grated on my nerves (and if the author mentioned her flame-red hair one more time, I thought I was going to throw the book at the wall!). She didn’t ever seem to be her age, and I didn’t find her relationship with Chang to be all that believable. Nor did I really believe her mother’s character, which was more cliché than anything; and I though Theo Willoughby’s story was really random and out there, and not truly important to the plot—which I kept searching for, but in vain. Take these characters and put them in a different setting, and you would probably have the same novel, honestly.

A lot of things happen in this novel, but it seems to be more inertia than anything—a lot of it doesn’t seem to advance the plot by much. Plus, there were a lot of inconsistencies—Lydia and Valentina can hardly afford to feed themselves, but the rabbit SunYat-sen is in absolutely blooming health. There’s a lot of gratuitous violence, too. Nor does the author seem to know much about Russian or Chinese culture and history. A huge disappointment, especially since this novel seemed promising.


dolleygurl said…
Wow - I wasn't too thrilled by the sound of the book, but I don't think I am going to be trying this one for sure now.
S. Krishna said…
Ok, I definitely won't be reading this book. Thanks for the review.
Cathy said…
I didn't like the book either for many of the same reasons as you.
Poppy Q said…
A good review, I struggled with this one two and never believed any of the characters.

Belinda Alexandra is a much better writier of this genre, I would recommend her books White Gardenia and Wild Lavender. She is an Australian writer.

Julie Q
Yes, that's pretty much what I've been hearing about this book. Thanks for reminding me to avoid it, because I could easily be sucked in by that title!
Jlc said…
Totally disagree! I loved the book.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…