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Katherine Webb – The Legacy

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Every family has their secrets, their problems, but not every family’s secrets are entwined.

Publisher: Orion Books
Pages: 422
ISBN: 978-1-4091-1716-2
First Published: 2010
Date Reviewed: 29th August 2010
Rating: 3.5/5

Beth and Erica have moved to the manor owned by their extended family, to sift through their grandmother’s belongings and ready the house for a potential buyer. But neither of them knew that when they got there they would find their childhood friends right where they left them, and they didn’t know the history of the great-grandparent who had caused their grandmother so much pain. Beth and Erica have not been back since two years after the disappearance of their cousin, and Beth has never been quite the same in the twenty-odd years in between, but now there’s a chance to find out what happened, both to their cousin and to the great-grandmother who so upset her own dynasty.

The Legacy is an incredibly long book. The narrative is split into two parts, past and present, each chapter being one or the other so that they are told back-to-back. At times the stories run parallel so that while Caroline travels in America in the past, Erica is discovering, in the present day, those events that occurred.

Webb has constructed an interesting story but unfortunately, although you can understand the issues the characters have, the people that populate her pages are lacking. They are not bad by any means but because the novel follows a simple pattern to many others, and shares the same basic storyline as so many before it, the characters fall flat of expectations. Caroline is very much a product of her time but it is still frustrating to read about her because you’d hoped she would be different. Some of her decisions are difficult to read about, so while she may have been a worthy candidate for her time she is unworthy of all that is given to her. Erica and Beth, Dinny too, are very average. There is nothing to recommend them to memory. The problem is that they are mostly there to further discovery but they’ve been given an ample amount of the book and so while there is plenty of space for them to develop there is little reason for them to do so. Although there are two secrets involved in the book, one historical one modern, the emphasis is on the historical so their fictional lives have been created for Caroline’s tale.

It is Caroline’s life that’s in the spotlight, and it’s this that is most interesting, but a rival to that interest has to be the location of the modern section of the story. As such this is also a rival to Erica’s narration. The wonderful thing about The Legacy is that the modern part is set at Christmas but often reflects on summer; this makes the book perfect for any weather, any season. It has all the recommendations of a summer read and all the recommendations of a winter one. I was very comfortable reading this novel while the rain poured and the sun shone in equal measure.

The locations picked are so far apart that it spurs the narrative on, so that where the modern characters may lack substance and the historical ones goodness, there is a constant need to read the book. Caroline lived in America before she came to England, in the hot, dry, hardly-cultivated lands of Oklahoma, and while Webb is not adept at character development she excels at location description. It’s all too easy to get lost in the landscape so that when you pull yourself away the heavy rainfall outside your window is a shock.

Lamentably, one of the two secrets is too predictable, in fact I realised the twist by a quarter of the way in. Whether or not this was intended by Webb I cannot decide because in a way it is painfully obvious, but the fact that the book carries on digging through ideas before coming out and telling you the secret itself leads me to think it was meant to stay secret. Because it was so obvious and because so many people will guess it like I did (it is that obvious that I can say that for sure) it puts a bad light over the book. All those pages to work out what the reader already knows; and it’s not like there is an interest to be had in reading about how the characters work it out because it’s not like the story is your average well-researched and forensic-riddled mystery.

Webb has thrown noticeable satirical and observational remarks into the book. She comments on the pushy quality of organisations to get you to join and the oft-acknowledged situation of Britain’s Prince Charles. These bring in some very up to date points of conversation for the reader to ponder on and allow for a sort of participation you wouldn’t generally expect in a novel.

But Webb’s style of writing is baffling. She often closes a sentence of dialogue with a full stop rather than the usual comma and then the “he said” part which makes working out who’s said what or done what very confusing. She also uses peculiar sentence structures that have a similar effect. There’s a good story behind the words but digging through them to get to it is difficult.

The Legacy takes a long time to tell a short story and while it’s a nice pastime there isn’t enough to recommend it to memory. It really is a very average book.

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