Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, by Ben Sherwood

This edition published in hardcover by Bantam Dell, 2004
I don’t feel like I can write a proper review of The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, and I don’t really want to. Because to be honest, this book infuriated me. It frustrated me to the end where I started wondering what was wrong with me, and why wasn’t I seeing all the amazing and magical things about it that all the other famous authors were, according to the glowing reviews on the back cover. So let me drop a few points about my reading experience:
·         I read this book because I recently saw the film, starring Zac Efron. The film was okay. It was pretty much what I expected. The characters Tess and Sam annoyed me, or maybe I just found the actors playing them really unlikeable. I think the Zef did pretty well, considering the material he was working with. But then again, I’ve always thought he was a decent actor, right back from when he used to be in Summerland (AMAZING show – why still no DVD????!!) The kid’s got some talent in addition to those much-lauded looks.
·         The premise of the book is clever enough, and the setting gorgeous. I did enjoy the anecdotes and description 0f the town and the harbour and the graveyard. I love reading anything about graveyards – there is so much material to be got out of them, there are so many stories you can build, themes you can explore. So that was okay.
·         BUT, the way it was all executed – yuck. This whole book, to me, felt contrived. I could not find and did not feel any genuine emotion. The writing was self-congratulatory. Designed to make the reader feel like they were reading the greatest, most life-affirming story they’d ever come across, to find the secrets of life among all its pages. Instead, I just wanted to run away.
·         The dialogue was pretty bad. It didn’t feel natural to me at all. In fact, nothing about this book felt natural. The scene where (SPOILER) Charlie and Tess finally get their sexy on just made me feel embarrased to read such purplish prose and badly-articulated sentiment.
·         I didn’t like Tess. I didn’t care what happened to her. I hated the way she was introduced, as some ballsy, modern, everyone-was-in-love-with-her woman. It all felt just so put-on.
·         My biggest dislike was waaaaaaaaay too much telling. Every character gets their own two-page backstory which is supposed to make us see how well-rounded or hard-done-by or totally-cool-guy they are. Hardly any of it, in the overall story arc, is relevent. Hardly any of it is interesting. In fact, I just found it bad writing.

There are other things, but I won’t go on. Overall, I just really felt the author couldn’t get past his own agenda and let the story speak for itself. It was over-done, over-written and pappy. I can see where others might find it sweet, or life-affirming, or touching. That’s fine. But this time, not for me.


  1. Hi there,
    This book is actually distributed by Pan Macmillan Australia. I work in the publicity department there. Would you be interested in receiving other Pan Macmillan titles for possible review? If so, can you email me with your full details?

  2. Hi Louise,

    Thanks for your comment. I have sent you an email.