May 04, 2010

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.... (Review: The Society of S by S. Hubbard)

The Society of S
Susan Hubbard
Simon and Schuster 2007

“If you ever want to hide from the world, live in a small city, where everyone seems anonymous." 
That's the advice of twelve-year-old Ariella Montero, who lives with her father in Saratoga Springs, New York, in a house haunted more by secrets than by memories. The Society of S traces her journey south, to Asheville and Savannah, and on to Florida, as she learns that everything she knows about her family is a lie. 
When she finds her mother, she learns the truth: Ariella is a fledgling member of the Society of S.S stands for Sanguinists: a sect of environmentalists concerned with ethics and human rights -- although they happen to be vampires. S also stands for synesthete: a person able to see words and letters in colors. The letter S is lucky for Sara, Ariella's mother, who gravitates to cities such as Savannah and Sarasota. But will it be lucky for Ariella? Susan Hubbard's novel is an intricate literary mystery that raises provocative questions about the way we live now. Ariella's voice will lure you into a world where you'll meet the others among us: vampires who cope with their special nature and need for blood in a variety of ways, ranging from the savage to the mundane to the scientific”

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I added this to my wish list quite recently and was therefore delighted to find it at my local library. I liked the premise: reclusive, mysterious father and overly protected child who may or may not be what they seem. I love a decent vampire story as much as the next person. Sadly, for me, this wasn't a decent vampire story.

I think that my main issue is that Ari, the main protagonist just didn't click with me. Firstly, although she is 13 during the events of the novel, the story is obviously being told by an older version of herself - at least, I assume that that is the case, as it wasn't all that clear. Her narrative voice certainly sounds like an adult (not disimilar, in fact, to that of Louis in Ann Rice's Interview with a Vampire). She is dispassionate in the extreme and seems to be lacking in almost all emotion, despite episodes during the book where she is obviously meant to be confused, angry, joyful or griefstricken. On several occasions, such as her first kiss or a family reunion, she actually says that it is too difficult to explain strong feelings. Perhaps I am missing the point but no, it's not. If you are telling me a story then I don't really want to hear that you can't tell it properly. It makes it really very difficult to empathise with Ari, and therefore hard to care about the journey that she is on. I wondered at several points during the book if we would find out that there was a reason she was so unemotional (perhaps, like Louis, she has been around so long that she can no longer summon excitement for life?), but there was no explanation forth coming.

Ari addresses the reader directly several times during the book which I found disrupted the flow of the story (although the reason for this is explained somewhat at the end). These addresses are usually in the form of asking the reader if they ever felt a certain way or if they had ever had a certain thing happen to them. I felt like I was reading study guide questions - as though I was being prompted to come up with essay answers based on the book. It really didn't work for me here and I think in general that asking your reader questions is quite a difficult thing to pull off (although is done with great aplomb in Daniel Handler's Basic Eight).

Other characters in the book are mainly in the peripheral. I quite liked Ari's father, Raphael, who was an interesting enigma - the more we learnt about him the more I wanted to know (which is the only reason I continued reading, to be honest). Later, some really interesting characters are introduced who have plenty of depth and warmth. This bothered me, as it only seemed to highlight how two dimensional and emotionless the main protagonist was. There is also a love interest who features barely at all. I have no idea why he is included in the story, other than it seems an obligatory plot point in most YA paranormal stories at the moment. In this case, the romance fell completely flat.

I do understand that this is the start of a series and that many of the questions that I have with this book may be in place for reasons that are yet to be revealed. I'm afraid that for me, these questions will have to remain unanswered as I have absolutely no inclination to read anything more about Ari or the Society of S.

I would be really interested to hear from anyone who has read this book and enjoyed it as I am concerned that I have just missed the point completely and am not "getting" it... I have a suspicion that this may be the case (I just can't believe that Ari is written this way unintentionally) so all comments welcome!


Lauren said...

I read this one quite some time ago, and I did enjoy it. I don't remember a huge amount of detail but I know I liked the atmosphere and I'm pretty sure the 'detached' feeling was part of that for me. This review has made me want to go back and read it again, mainly to look at the book with a more critical eye and see if I still feel the same way about it.

Ella Press said...

I'm sorry you didn't like it.
I've had it in my Wish List for some time now, but the main reason I love Paranormal is because of the mystery and constant action, and this sounds a bit blah to me right now. I'd love to read other reviews.

Splendibird said...

Yeah, I'm sorry I didn't like it too! I really wanted to. I just didn't like the main character and that kind of ruined the whole thing. At the moment I still feel irritated thinking about her but I am tempted to give it a wee while and then try the next book. I read some reviews on Goodreads and there are some that love it and some that felt the same as I did, so absolutely give it a go!