28 September 2015

Bullet Review: The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee

The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-GeeDecades before Guernsey became a household name, thanks to the best-selling Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, I lived on the island while I was conducting my doctoral research. Since then, I've had a soft spot for all things British Channel Islands, so when The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee came to my attention, it was a given that I was going to read it.

Quick look: The summer that Jude, just out of college, is hired to tutor a lonely boy on a lonelier island, she is unaware of how her life will be shaped by those few indelible weeks and the two people who will haunt her forever.

About the book: The Last Kings of Sark is kind of a triple character study, mostly told through Jude's eyes. It's about her arrival on the island; her impressions of the family; and her relationship with her teenage pupil, Pip, and the summer cook, Sofi. All starts out as expected, if a little uncomfortable, until Pip's father leaves for an extended business trip. The three young people then feel their freedom and spend the summer riding bikes, walking the beach, drinking wine, and forming a bond that none of them can explain. The final third of the book revisits Jude, Pip, and Sofi over the next decade or so, giving us a snapshot of where their lives have gone.

My expectations: I read this book with no notion of the plot. I was looking forward to learning about life in the Channel Islands in the twenty-first century. Instead my view of Sark was as narrow as Jude's: revolving completely around Sofi and Pip. I know this colored my ultimate reaction to the novel.

The good: Rankin-Gee excels at painting a mood, at developing an atmosphere. The novel is pregnant with expectation, and it's easy to fall into Jude, Pip, and Sofi's circle. The pace of their friendship as well as their mistakes and falters feel authentic for that magical summer. It was also interesting to see how the events of those weeks affected the three of them as they became true adults.

The less good: On the other hand, my expectations and the actual plot of The Last Kings of Sark were at odds, and I was disappointed not to have a broader view of the islanders and island life. This is purely a personal thing and totally on me. In addition, I don't think novels have to end with every little thing tied up in a bow, but the vagueness of the last third of the book, especially the sections about Jude's life, left me wanting.

Recommendation: If you go into The Last Kings of Sark expecting a character-driven, character-focused novel, you'll find a lot to think about. Rosa Rankin-Gee well captures that moment when you're no longer a child but not yet an adult, when you can still thrill at firsts, and when you are particularly impressionable. Despite the novel's early strengths, however, I was left feeling flat, wishing for something more or something different.

Published by St. Martin's Press/ St. Martin's Griffin, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781250068040
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


rhapsodyinbooks 9/28/15, 9:09 AM  

I agree; why pick an unusual locale - or any locale really - unless it's a big part of the story?

Daryl 9/28/15, 9:14 AM  

what an amazing adventure you must have had researching there ..

bermudaonion 9/28/15, 9:24 AM  

I need more than great characters so this may not be for me.

Sally Whitney 9/28/15, 12:02 PM  

If the novel wasn't satisfying, then the author didn't do her job.

Claudia 10/3/15, 2:56 PM  

I just finished the
and loved it. Would also love to visit Guernsey one day.

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