Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Weight of Water

I learned that night that love is never as ferocious as when you think it is going to leave you.  We are not always allowed this knowledge, and so our love sometimes becomes retrospective. 
The Weight of WaterA tale of love and jealousy.  A tale of what happens when these are the emotions that rule one's life.  This is Anita Shreeve's The Weight of Water.  It is told through recollections and journals of recollections.  It is a novel set in two time periods, one hundred years apart.  The main device in the novel, as one may guess is water.  But a secondary device used to a better purpose is a fisherman's net.  The fisherman's net serves to connect the stories of these disparate women a century apart.  It serves to show the bonds of human relationship that connect people's lives to one another.  And it shows the frailty of human emotion; how all that one holds dear can unravel in the time it takes to prepare a cup of coffee.  This is best portrayed by this statement:

We have done this thing, and then that thing, and then that thing, and I have come to think of our years together as a tightly knotted fisherman's net; not perfectly made perhaps, but so well knit I would have said it could never have been unraveled

All that said, I did not really enjoy reading The Weight of Water.  I found it disjointed, the transitions from one story to the next jarring.  I also thought it odd that these women would write a narrative in the same way, even though they are in different time periods, different cultures, even different languages.  I understand that Shreeve wanted to show a connection between the present day and the past, but I found it unnerving.  The book ends up like listening to a long-winded story-teller who has grown a little rusty in the telling.  There are digressions galore, backstory of backstory.  And all I wanted was to get to the end. 

Also, I don't believe Shreeve left much to the imagination of the reader narratively.  Within the first 70 pages, I thought I knew exactly what had happened and exactly what would happen.  At the end of the book, I was right.  Does that make me smarter than others?  No, I think it means Shreeve didn't hide her hand.  I felt much like one of the narrators: "I have sometimes though that there are moments when you can see it all - and if not the future, then all that has gone before."  She did attempt to make you think you weren't getting the whole story with the inclusion of the line: "No one can know a story's precise reality."  This isn't as compelling a red herring when you read it in context. 

If you are interested in this novel, I recommend a section of pages around pages 69-71.  These are the most compelling literary passages of the entire novel.  All the quotes here in this post are culled from these pages. 
Rating: 2.5 out of 7 (Wish it could have been better)



  1. Have you ever read anything else by Shreve? I really, really enjoyed The Last Time They Met, and Light on Snow was a pretty good read too; I also read All He Ever Wanted and didn't care for it so much. I have a copy of The Pilot's Wife but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

  2. No, I haven't read anything else by her. I borrowed it from my sister-in-law who reads every-thing! Maybe I will try another one later on. Sounds like it will be The Last Time They Met based on your rec.

  3. Now you must read, The last time we met (I think that's the title. the main character's story twenty years later). I want to reread the weight of water again. Love early Shreve! Her recent books are not as good.