I picked up the massive hardback that is The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley with glee. It looked so inviting, with its lush black cover and pages, covered in swirly gold writing and drawings. Then when I had read a few pages and realised it was about beautiful rich people, I was even more excited. It’s such a treat, to enter in to a world so alien! Within a few pages the scene was set for a world of wealth and privilege where servants are loyal and gardens are manicured.
I should concentrate on the positives of the book, which are that I learnt a lot about the history of Brazil and Rio in particular, about the making and purpose of Christ the Redeemer, the statue of Jesus Christ which towers above the city; that Brazilians eat cake for breakfast; that if you have Brazilian blood in you, you’ll be able to dance the Samba really well without any practice; that in the olden days the Brazilian upper classes were even more narrow minded than the British upper classes, if that’s possible, and that most Brazilian women are beautiful.
The story has a sort of mystical sub plot, due to the nature of the 7 sister’s origins, which lent the book a rather whimsical air, but that’s about as far as the whimsical-ness went. It took me a while to work out the Lucinda Riley must have written 7 of these monsters, there being 7 sisters and each sister having her own, unique story. Blimey, I thought. That’s a hell of a lot of writing and character planning. But of course, it’s ok, because this is basically writing by numbers.
I’m struggling somewhat with any more positives because this book is as stiff as a board, as wooden as a plank and as lifeless as a corpse. I’m sorry but it’s actually amazing that Ms Riley has written such a huge amount (this one book is 626 pages long) but managed to maintain such rigidity and soulnessness in her characters. Despite the whole entire book being about Maia and the story of how she came to be one of Pa Salts adoptive daughters, she’s as two dimensional and characterless as if there had only been one line written about her. I knew her as little toward the end as I did at the beginning and liked her less.
Now, I may sound harsh. And that may be because I had big hopes for this book – the cover set my expectations sky high (aside from the blurb on the front that claims the author is an ‘international multi million copy bestseller author) and she has obviously done an enormous amount of research in to Brazil and Paris in the 1920’s. It obviously appeals to a certain audience and admittedly I don’t think I’m in that group – if I’m going to read something like this I’d much prefer a good old Penny Vincenzi, who manages to maintain a lightness of touch and an element of humour to her words, along storylines similar to this.
This book takes itself too seriously, as do all the characters and I found it formulaic and predictable. However, once again I am in awe of anyone who can write with so much commitment (there’s 6 more of these to read!). The amount of work she must have put in to get the historical and cultural detail is staggering so my hat is off to Ms Riley and the dedication she so clearly has to the sisters. For me though, one was enough.