The River by Michael Neale is a novel I acquired a while ago because of a hype. Many employees of the publishing company had read it and very highly recommended it, so I thought I would give it a shot. While it wasn't at all a bad book, it was certainly a disappointment.
The story starts out in the present day, where a fifty-ish man named Gabriel Clarke approaches the story's narrator and tells him that he's on his way back from travelling around the world, running National Geographic's Top Ten Most Dangerous and Beautiful Rivers in the World. After exploring numerous beautiful locations, meeting tons of new friends, and encountering multiple near-death experiences, he was ready to head home. And then he tells the narrator his life story, which is the bulk of the book.
Now, that might sound like a really intriguing story, but in reality the story doesn't focus at all on that long adventure he had. It's about his childhood and early years. When he was five, he watched his father die saving another man's life in The River. For the next fifteen years he would grow up with his mom in a small town in Kansas, before eventually, after a series of events, work at a summer camp in Colarado, where he would rediscover his true love of The River.
Right off the bat, I had problems with this book. The story is supposed to be about Gabriel, but the first two chapters are almost entirely from the point of view of his parents. If this is Gabriel's story, why is it being told through the eyes of others? In addition, the writing style of this book looks like it was written by a teenager. Not that it has bad grammar or it's poorly written or anything, but it just seems like it'd be something that I would write myself, if I had the ability to stay on a single writing project long enough to finish it.
The whole book just doesn't seem at all realistic. Some would argue that that's the point of fiction, but not when a book tries to be realistic. You can tell that the author meant for it to be a story that could have actually happened, but it didn't at all turn out that way. The entire story felt forced. Like the storyteller didn't know how to tell a story.
The dialogue is written in a way so that almost all of the characters appear to have the same personality (a personality which isn't in the slightest bit realistic), and sometimes it just felt like the author didn't know how things work. Things like animal behavior and what it's like to live in a small town—you get the impression that the author thought he knew what he was talking about, but he really, certainly didn't.
There's also the allegorical elements, such as whenever any river is mentioned at any of the book, the characters refer to it as The River. And everyone thinks The River is amazing beyond anything else, to the point where you get bored every time it's mentioned. Throughout the book, The River is a very obvious and poorly-implemented metaphor for God. If the author wanted to write a good book, he should have removed all allegorical content completely and just wrote it as a story. It would have been much more enjoyable.
Another part of the book I didn't care for was that some romance elements were added in, but for no purpose. If they'd been expanded on it might have added to the story, but as they were they were kind of pointless. Perhaps they were part of the allegory, and that would be why they could have been a brilliant addition, but they weren't. And on that point, the romance was absolutely unrealistic.
However, after pointing out all these parts of the book that made it not nearly as great as it could have been, I also have to point out that these can all be attributed as minor gripes. While I had problems with the story, other readers may not. I actually found the book quite enjoyable at times, though I always got bored when the characters got started talking about The River.
One of the aspects I liked about the book—though I'm not sure they should be considered as pros—is the similes used by the author. I don't know why, but I just found them hilarious. The sad part is that the author didn't mean them to be cheesy or hilarious; he meant them to be serious. However, I might be the only person who's even taken note of them.
Regardless of all the faults, there are still great gems in The River. I enjoyed it as a whole, and I know other people who would enjoy it a lot more than I did. While it could be boring, cliché, and poorly worded at times, I can see why people would like it. However, I find it difficult to recommend a book that I would not purchase myself.
This book was sent to me for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing. http://www.BookSneeze.com/