So, yeah. This is a little awkward.
This review is of Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener. Full disclosure: I received this eARC from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!)
So, fair and honest it will be.
I didn’t like this book very much. I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads. I see that others liked it quite a bit and I respect that and I’m not going to trash it, but I just didn’t like it very much at all. I’m not someone who goes to a restaurant looking for things to nitpik. I want to be pleased. I just wasn’t.
To work on the positive side, the book did eventually work itself up to a dramatic conclusion which was good to read.
Beyond that, though, I just found the storytelling incredibly stilted and awkward.
For example, the following construction occurs over and over in the book:
“You’re a man of questions this morning,” Bernardo said to Will, obviously enjoying Will’s interrogations.
First, that’s an awkward way for someone to talk, but the tag on the end is just very difficult for a reader, in my opinion. It separates the reader from the story and the action. I just think it would be stronger if it actually was obvious, as opposed to having it explained. And, this construction is used over and over in the book.
Second, people who have commented about the book feel like Budapest became a character in the book. That was clearly the objective–to portray it as a kind of inscrutable city with a lot of secrets and a dark, hidden side. Having said that, while I understood that was the idea, I never really felt it. I read Leaving Berlin recently, and that book captured a city way better than this one did, as did Gentlemen in Moscow.
Also, all the dark actions taken were taken by Americans living in Budapest, so maybe it isn’t Budapest that was dark.
Speaking of which, there’s an overly broad scene where American women who live in Budapest talk just the way you’d expect them to.
And, at one point, a main character–an American–talks about Budapest like he ate a Wikipedia entry about the city. And a chain-smoking “escort” is thrown into the story for no apparent reason.
Anyway, other people have enjoyed this book. I wasn’t one of them, but people’s views can vary.