Something missing

Trance of Insignificance
by Jennifer Rainville

This book was sent to me by the author after a short e-mail exchange during which she intrigued me with her title and synopsis. It sounded like a smart, modern romance that would make an easy but satisfying summer read. It certainly had all the right components, but for me it didn’t quite hit the spot.

Rainville has created a main character with a lot in common with herself. Jules Duvil, like her creator, worked as a political aide in Washington and then as a TV journalist in New York City before becoming a media adviser and writing a novel, which is about to be released at the start of this book. This lends a weight of authority to the passages set in newsrooms and I was a little sorry that there wasn’t any detail about Jules’ time in Washington, because I’d have loved to learn more about that.

The book cuts back and forward in time, mostly to three periods: Jules’ problematic childhood on the rougher side of Boston; her relationship 10 years ago with local celebrity news anchor Jack who is a known womaniser and yet is jealous of Jules’ every move; and the present day, in which Jules is trying to make things work with the far more staid and predictable ad exec Noah, who comes from money and believes in doing things in a certain way. It is clear that neither man is good for Jules; both of them want to change her, but they also love her deeply.

For me, the novel started on a bit of a bum note. In an early chapter we hear about Jules’ first day as a lowly production assistant for a big New York news station and that day just happened to be 11 September 2001. It’s a bold decision to take and gives Rainville the chance to quickly explain a lot about how TV news works while relating it to a news story that we all remember vividly. However, she doesn’t write much about the effect of 9/11 outside the news room – the state the city was in, the change that was suddenly and irrevocably wrought. I know she is trying to make a point about news journalists being bloodthirsty enough to not think about the human side of tragedy, but surely that was too big and awful an event for that to be true? Maybe I’m wrong.

I didn’t warm to Jules. Though we gradually learn from the flashbacks why she is a little cold and label-obsessed, I was annoyed by the need to detail every one of Jules’ outfits, including accessories – all designer. I wasn’t convinced that a single woman living alone in New York and struggling to make it as a journalist would honestly be able to afford such extravagant outfits, not coming from a poor background. Maybe she earned a small fortune during her couple of years in Washington? But that seems unlikely. It’s more believable in the present-day sections, when she’s become a successful self-employed media adviser and it would have been interesting to see a contrast from perhaps her envy of other women’s clothing in 2001 to having a designer-filled wardrobe in 2011.

Jules’ rough upbringing wasn’t, sadly, entirely convincing. Rainville drops in a lot of family trauma and some scenes are frank and shocking, but they didn’t feel fully fleshed out. They were often very brief – just a page or two – and could have done with expanding, perhaps even softening with some warmer or even just mundane memories.

This is Rainville’s first novel and it’s self-published, neither of which is necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it shows. Though Rainville has some talent, she would have benefited enormously from a professional publishing house to give her some guidance and edit the text line by line. The copy editing is poor, though that may have particularly stood out for me because it’s how I make my living. But more than that, there are some clumsy lines, poor exposition and extraneous details that a professional would have helped Rainville to iron out.

I suppose I would have liked to see more descriptions of the city, rather than just name-dropping restaurants and bars; and more small, nuanced details that reveal something about a person rather than a personals-ad-style height, figure, hair and eye colour list. Rainville does know how to turn a phrase, and uses some great imagery, not to mention having a good ear for dialogue, but there’s too much clumsiness in-between to ignore. That said, I was involved enough in the story to read the book pretty quickly and care how things turned out. If Rainville works with a professional publisher for future novels, I do think it will be worth giving her another chance.

This is all, of course, just one person’s opinion, and I may have been negatively influenced by the grammatical errors. Other reviewers out there seem to have more positive views.

Published 2011 by Rainville Books.