Official Review: Old Stone Face by Eve Gwartney

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nooregano
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Latest Review: Old Stone Face by Eve Gwartney

Official Review: Old Stone Face by Eve Gwartney

Post by nooregano » 03 Aug 2019, 05:24

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Old Stone Face" by Eve Gwartney.]
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2 out of 4 stars
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Old Stone Face by Eve Gwartney is an enchanting story set in the 1800s that follows the lives of two indentured Danish sisters, Maren and Britta. Living without their parents in a harsh and grief-stricken world, the girls’ souls grow older than their young, sunburnt faces. With no dolls to play with and nobody to ask questions to, the sisters seek refuge in “Old Stone Face,” a rock on the estate that vaguely resembles a noseless visage. Old Stone Face becomes the girls’ secret confidante, as well as a stand-in for the missing people in their lives. The girls go on to grow while they discover secrets, forge unexpected relationships, and experience unimaginable horrors that seem impossible to heal from. This story is one that shows the reader how the treasures of compassion, hope, and forgiveness can come after grief and suffering, and how redemption can come after evil. It’s a profoundly comforting message.

One thing I greatly admired about the story was how committed it was to providing humane and multifaceted perspectives on different characters, situations, and struggles. Whether the character was a protagonist or antagonist, his or her position was presented in a compassionate way. There was an underlying insinuation that each character was innately good, if only a bit misguided or misinformed. Just like in real life, the situations the characters found themselves in were tricky and never clear-cut. The characters had to make many difficult decisions with limited information and were frequently uncertain about the future. This made it very easy to empathise with the character’s thoughts, hopes, and fears. It also helped the reader to clearly see how the characters were doing their best in whatever situation they were in, even if it was difficult to agree with the actions they took.

The story was very symbolic, and there were a lot of insights and profound pearls of wisdom that the book had to offer. However, the symbols and metaphors were not embedded subtly in the text and were instead constantly pointed out to the reader. Often, they were explained in a literal, concrete manner. This made it so that the reader never had a chance to discover them on his or her own. Sometimes a metaphor was dragged on too long and was hammered in so hard that it lost its gravity. One example of this is a situation in the story where a character changed his or her name to reflect his or her new and improved personality. The etymology of both names was explained in great detail, and the conflict between the respective “personalities” of both names was reinforced so many times that it lost its lustre over time despite being a good metaphor.

Old Stone Face was particularly wholesome, and that was both its strength as well as its weakness. It had very optimistic—almost naïve—ideas about goodness and redemption, but this quality was what made it so irresistible and endearing. This is the kind of message that balms the heart and nourishes the spirit. Recently, there’s been a trend of absurdist or even cynical themes in the stories that deal with making sense out of the human condition. The pure and sturdy sense of hope this book carried within it was a breath of fresh air.

This story also had that otherworldly “historical fiction” feeling—the feeling of being excited but ultimately safe in a strange and beautiful new place. Eve Gwartney’s writing crafted a rich and detailed Danish backdrop. The descriptions of food and clothes were especially vivid. The story took me squarely to 1800s Denmark, and the visuals she created were lucid and atmospheric. That is how I know, in retrospect, that the book was written after being thoroughly and meticulously researched. Dieter Rams once said, “good design is invisible.” I think I would say the same about good research in a historical fiction novel.

Unfortunately, the silky quality of this rich plot eventually snagged on the bumpy timeline. The flow of the story was inconsistent and large chunks of time passed by erratically. After a while, it was hard to keep up with how old the protagonists were. This also put some distance between the reader and the characters, making it difficult to feel attached to them. I also found more than 10 small grammatical errors, and although they did not significantly impact my reading experience, there were too many of them for me to be able to consider the book professionally edited. For all these reasons, I rate Old Stone Face 2 out of 4 stars. Had I been able to evaluate the book out of five stars, I would have given it three stars, as there is more I enjoyed about this story than not. I would recommend this book to historical fiction enthusiasts, philosophers of life, and cynics who want a sip of hope before they go on their way.

******
Old Stone Face
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Post by Prisallen » 06 Aug 2019, 08:14

I'm afraid I'm rather ignorant of Danish life in the 1800's, and this book does seem to be interesting especially the "sip of hope" part. However, I think I will hold off for now. Thank you for a wonderful review!

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Post by Dentarthurdent » 06 Aug 2019, 08:53

nooregano wrote: ↑
03 Aug 2019, 05:24
Old Stone Face was particularly wholesome, and that was both its strength as well as its weakness. It had very optimistic—almost naïve—ideas about goodness and redemption, but this quality was what made it so irresistible and endearing. This is the kind of message that balms the heart and nourishes the spirit. Recently, there’s been a trend of absurdist or even cynical themes in the stories that deal with making sense out of the human condition. The pure and sturdy sense of hope this book carried within it was a breath of fresh air.
Existential angst seems to be the new black, and the edifying nature of the book seems like it would be a breath of fresh air, had it not been for the heavy-handed execution.
Great review!
I like reading what you take away from the books you review, it makes your work humorous and unique.
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Post by Tomah » 06 Aug 2019, 16:34

I'm surprised to know it's actually a rather optimistic, perhaps to the point of naivete, tale of compassion, hope, and redemption, since the premise starts out quite bleak. I'm intrigued by the historical and geographical background and the complex characters, though the ham-fisted metaphors do put me off a bit. Thanks for the review!

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Post by allbooked+ » 06 Aug 2019, 17:49

I love historical fiction - and know little about Danish life - so this intrigues me. I may give it a try even though the story line is a touch inconsistent. Thanks for the insightful review!

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Post by Wambui-nj » 09 Aug 2019, 12:49

Well, this doesn't sound like a book I would love to read. Great review though.

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Post by unamilagra » 09 Aug 2019, 18:29

I really like that the characters are complicated and realistic. I think there are very few genuinely bad people in the world, we all do the best we can with the personalities we are born with and what we are taught in life. Your analysis of all of the facets that make this novel special was beautifully written. It's too bad the timeline and errors drug down the book, because otherwise it sounds like a wonderful read.

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Post by Mbrooks2518 » 10 Aug 2019, 14:30

I definitely agree that this book's optimistic tone is needed right now. However, I'm not a fan of historicl fiction, so I'll pass. Great review!

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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 14 Aug 2019, 08:47

I usually like historical fiction, but this one sounds like it has a few too many weaknesses to be enjoyable. Fantastic review, though, thanks for that!

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Post by Lindsey Klaus » 14 Aug 2019, 20:43

I have a really strong bond with my older sister, so I really love stories about sisterhood. This sounds up my alley, so it's a shame that the story became inconsistent after a while. It's always disappointing when something starts strong and tapers off after a while. Still, this sounds like a heart-filled story, and it would be nice to read something that isn't so nihilistic. A lot of the stuff today is so grimdark that it's hard to feel attached or connected, so it's wonderful that someone made a story that looks on the positive side. Life isn't just one way or the other, it's a spectrum. Love it. Thanks for your review! It was balanced and informative, I like how you examined the plot, structure, and themes!

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Post by Ekta Swarnkar » 16 Aug 2019, 00:36

Amazing review!
Honestly, I don't fancy such plots but I think I should try this one. Thanks for the valuable review.
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Post by sarahmarlowe » 20 Aug 2019, 09:52

As I began reading your review, I wondered at what could have caused you to deduct two stars. It sounds like a lovely book! However, with the plot issues as well as editing issues, I think you well-justified your rating. Thanks for another great review!
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Post by Bianka Walter » 20 Aug 2019, 12:51

You are absolutely right - sometimes, saying too much makes the reader feel like they are being spoken at. Similes and metaphors are fun to work through and figure out on your own.
This is a great review, as always :)
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Latest Review: Old Stone Face by Eve Gwartney

Post by nooregano » 22 Aug 2019, 00:10

Prisallen wrote: ↑
06 Aug 2019, 08:14
I'm afraid I'm rather ignorant of Danish life in the 1800's, and this book does seem to be interesting especially the "sip of hope" part. However, I think I will hold off for now. Thank you for a wonderful review!
Thanks for stopping by, Prisallen! :)
"I speak only one language, and it is not my own." - Jacques Derrida

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nooregano
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Latest Review: Old Stone Face by Eve Gwartney

Post by nooregano » 22 Aug 2019, 00:14

Dentarthurdent wrote: ↑
06 Aug 2019, 08:53
nooregano wrote: ↑
03 Aug 2019, 05:24
Old Stone Face was particularly wholesome, and that was both its strength as well as its weakness. It had very optimistic—almost naïve—ideas about goodness and redemption, but this quality was what made it so irresistible and endearing. This is the kind of message that balms the heart and nourishes the spirit. Recently, there’s been a trend of absurdist or even cynical themes in the stories that deal with making sense out of the human condition. The pure and sturdy sense of hope this book carried within it was a breath of fresh air.
Existential angst seems to be the new black, and the edifying nature of the book seems like it would be a breath of fresh air, had it not been for the heavy-handed execution.
Great review!
I like reading what you take away from the books you review, it makes your work humorous and unique.
Thank you for your kind words, Dentarthurdent! Yes, you're right, existential angst does seem to be very popular nowadays.I always look forward to your comments. Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it!
"I speak only one language, and it is not my own." - Jacques Derrida

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