When I finished this book, the first thing that came to my mind was: I feel like I’m reading an utterly boring version of Anne of Green Gables.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of romance. Or maybe it’s because of the cringing cheesiness of the plot. From the tacky, TACKY characters to the predictable story line, there’s nothing for me to love in regards to the plot. When I looked at the book cover I thought it might be a thrilling adventure story, you know? You have the sea, a couple of boats in the distance, and a female gazing into the horizon with an undefinable look – the possible makings of an adventure story – but no, it’s a totally cliche romantic book (*gag). In the book’s defence I could’ve read the excerpt first before purchasing this so yeah, in a way it’s my fault and I’ve paid the price (literally and figuratively) LOL.
People who are fond of the romance genre might love this book (as written by some die-hard fans in Goodreads), and some who just don’t want to have anything to do with it (also found in Goodreads, check it out). My issue, however, is leaning towards the characters. There’s no one that I like. NO ONE.
The plot basically goes like this (spoiler alert!)
Quin Somerville, a highly prominent scholar, notices that his Jewish-Austrian friend Prof Berger is missing from the collecting of the honorary doctorate certificates, so he went in search of Prof Berger’s daughter, Ruth. He then learned that Ruth was supposed to have escaped from Vienna before Hitler strikes the city, however failed to do so, leaving her fiance Heini (haha, heinie. Suitable name for him though) and her family in England. She’s stuck in Vienna. In order to get Ruth to safety, Quin proposes that they go through with a marriage of convenience so that Ruth can then obtain an English citizenship and join her family in England. They wanted to get an annulment as soon as they got to England, but the lawyer advised against it, and suggests that they must wait for Ruth’s British naturalisation, otherwise it might put her citizenship at jeopardy. Due to the fact that Prof Berger and his wife are very traditional people, hence the couple decided to keep the marriage a secret.
Ruth thought she was in love with Heini (the reason being that he’s super talented. What kind of nonsensical reason is this btw?), and she wanted more then ever to keep the marriage with Quin a secret. After that she was accepted into a zoology course at a university where Quin was lecturing. They tried to keep their feelings bottled up, however after running to each other multiple times, it’s apparent that both of them are in love.
Just when things are finally starting to fall into place, there’s a misunderstanding between both of them (Typical lover’s tiff that started because both of them didn’t even bother to clarify with each other whether their assumptions were correct. Stupid STUPID people. Quin could’ve went up to Ruth and asked: “Hey I heard something about you, is this correct or not?”, or Ruth could’ve walked up to Quin and said: “Hey, can I have The Talk with you?”, but no, these two are as stubborn as mules, not to mention complete drama queens). The misunderstanding was clarified in the end though, and they lived happily ever after with Ruth giving birth to Quin’s child. End of story.
Ruth gave me an Anne vibe, but that’s it. Only a vibe. Nothing more. I still prefer the red-haired orphan more than the golden-haired “scholar”. I’d like to be best buds with Anne and punch Ruth in the face, because Ruth is completely spineless. She’s like: “Oh, my Heini (hehehe, heinie, I can’t help it) is this promising pianist, so I must be fully attentive to his every whiny need. If he wants a piano, I will do whatever I can to buy it for him (here’s a tip, Ruth, let him get his own damn piano. If he wants a particular model of a Bösendorfer which is hard to come by in the market, you don’t just let him trample over you and order you around; you don’t let your friend wander around the streets looking for one; you tell him to get and PAY for his own piano.); if he wants to have absolute peace and quiet, I’ll ask my mother to shut up (not in the exact words, but she implied it) so that she will not disturb his practice sessions. Yup, I’m not a fan of Ruth Berger.
What about Quin? Well for one thing, he’s too uptight and rigid. Basically he’s your average rom com guy, which makes him unappealing in my eyes. I can’t even bring myself to write a long winding paragraph about him because he has no personality.
Despite the disgust that I felt with the plot and the protagonists, I would like to award this book 2 and a half stars. Why? There’s a very redeeming and very prominent feature – Eva Ibbotson’s words can send me spiralling into the streets of Vienna; running around the breathtaking (or breath-giving) seashore of Bowmont; and walking around Budapest with Heini. Even though I’m not a fan of the story, I’m a fan of her sentences and words. “Natural” is a word to describe Eva Ibbotson’s writing. Her sentences came naturally to me, like breathing. She didn’t use any bombastic words in this book, and yet she can still put me on that beach, in that garden, and on that street, which deserves my round of applause. All of her sentences are made out of simple words that somehow mesh together to create a harmonious flow.
Besides that, it did offer me an insight into the life of an upper-middle class Jewish-Austrian family during the eve of Hitler’s reign. What I find interesting is that Ms Ibbotson has put her own situation into the book. Although it is mainly about the romance between Ruth Berger and Quin Somerville, she’s managed to slip part of her own life story in as well. She’s born in Vienna, just like Ruth, and the Nazis came so she fled to England with her family, just like Ruth as well, so I think that reading snippets of her biography through Ruth’s eyes is a somewhat interesting concept. One last thing that I do want to note is that I’m glad that I could see accurate references to Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Strauss (“I swear by Mozart’s head!” is a refreshing change of an exclamation phrase indeed); and also the various information in the book regarding palaeontology and zoology are correct as well.
For me, a good book will convince me that the characters in the book actually exist in real life. Unfortunately, I can’t believe that I will bump into Ruth Berger, Quin Somerville, and even the antagonist Verena Plackett in the street. They only exist in the 506 pages of The Morning Gift. That being said, I would reread this book someday. Not for the plot, but for the words itself.