The Gift by Louise Jensen
This book is so bad that it is definitely a gift. It would be a great present for anyone who was thinking of writing a novel. It’s so bad that it’s good and it taught me a great deal.
In the acknowledgements, 21 people plus a team at the publishers are credited. I always find that any book’s quality is always in inverse ratio to the number of people thanked by the writer. The more people are thanked, even including their dog, the worse the book. (This does not apply to crime authors like Patricia Cornwell, who have to acknowledge various technical advisors etc)
The gift of the title is the transplanted heart that Jen has been given and how that has led her to seek out the family of the dead Callie, the donor of the heart. Her body reacts to signs from Callie’s past. Throughout the men around her are helpful or puzzled or both (except for the villain.) the boyfriend is exceptionally patient and understanding.
For a start, the heroine is called Jenna, mostly Jen, which is only a stone’s throw from the writer’s own surname of Jensen. A basic requirement of starting any work of fiction is to never have your main person with almost the same name as yourself.
From there on it is all in the present tense and written in the first person. Eventually the relentless I, I, I, becomes wearing – we want to see other peoples’ points of view and their reactions. “I struggle to keep up. By the time I’m shown into a small room I’m breathless and I sink gratefully into a chair.”
Throughout, Jenna has several physical abilities we don’t share. “Hot tears inexplicably prick the back of my eyes and I swallow them down.” How is this possible? There’s also “anxiety dampens my clothes” I shudder to think how…
Page 105, cliché alert -“An icy chill brushes against the back of my neck.” The cliché returns on p131 “There’s a chill on the back of my neck.”
“The hope I’d felt that I could find some answers here seeps from my body, sapping the strength from my muscles as it leaves.” P 135 Again! “The hairs on the back of my neck prickle as I think I’m being watched.” and “Adrenaline heats my body” then “My fists are so tightly bunched my nails cut into my palms.” By p138 she is “feeling the adrenaline slip away” as well it might, it’s the third time in the last few pages. Onwards to p164 and “The hairs on the back of my neck prick up” Do they? Is this physically possible? Then, on p193 “A hot lump rises in my throat.”
A couple of pages further on, “there’s a dullness in my chest and my teeth are clamped together so hard my temples throb.” There is no cure for that. It gets worse. p207 “My stomach contracts into a tiny ball as I think of the mind map” But matters get even worse, soon, p218 “My stomach is a tight, hard knot and my feet are rooted to the floor.”
P220 “The look of sympathy IN (?) his (Sam’s) face makes my throat grow hot.” But soon, on P 226 “anger bubbles in my chest like acid.” But by the next page, thankfully “the waves of adrenaline subside,” “I press the heels of my hands against my forehead, fingertips digging into my scalp…mistrust gnaws at the pit of my stomach…another thought occurs, slamming into my chest, stopping me in my tracks.” p242 “and as I remember… his hands on my body, I swallow down bile.” 246 “Panic stutters in my veins.“ 251 “The ground seems to shift beneath my feet” and on p265 “floorboards shift” for about the fifth time in the book. Bile unfortunately returns on p261 as Jen works at the vets “There was a sour sting of bile at the back of my throat as Linda loaded the syringe.”
It gets worse. “I screw my hands into fists and press them into my eye sockets and the fog in my mind dissipates.” DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
Tom, father of the dead Callie, also has the same abilities – “I watch his defeated shoulders slink into the hallway.” Shoulders with no body attached? On p288 Tom gives a lecture on Cellular Memory, a perfect example of the show don’t tell ruling.
And Sophie, sister of the dead heart-donor Callie , even has the same problems! p281 “Sophie’s chest hurts as she inhales the damp” then, ditto “The hairs on the back of Sophie’s neck prick up.”295 “Sophie draws her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms round her shins” 311 “Desperation was inflating inside her (Sophie) like a balloon” A wonderful example of bathos. P312 Sophie –“her stomach muscles screamed as she vomited.”
There is a careless repetition of a personal quirk. p 75 Joe (Callie’s uncle) always drives while eating Jelly Babies and Sam (Jen’s boyfriend) has “humbugs that Sam always crunches when he drives.” Any competent author would have remarked that the two men had, coincidently, the same habit but the author makes no such comment. It implies that someone in her real life has such an idiosyncrasy and she has to use it three times, without realising the repetition. Bad editing by the team of people in the acknowledgements. But unbelievably, p228 we go to a third man, in the past “Dad crunching a sherbet lemon “ –the third man to need a sweet when he drives. Any computer has a ‘FIND’ button, where you can check up on repeats; but any averagely competent writer would be aware of such items and either, as I suggest, link them or edit them out. p314 More sweets-while-driving. Callie needs the packet of mints “I’m feeling sick” as she drives to Burton Aerodrome with Sophie and the dead Owen. “They circled around the airfield, sucking on extra strong.” By this time I had lost the plot completely. Another physical quirk “The wind forces its way inside of her mouth.”
There is a shoot-out in the aerodrome and Tom has a heart attack as there is a gunshot. I had already given up by now trying to make sense of the plot.. As usual, on P 324 “Adrenaline floods my system.” The sky is described as charcoal again. p326 She falls over, “ flooding my mouth with blood, and as I swallow it down, bile and fear rises in my throat.” Contortions again “A lump of frustration lodges in my throat.” “I manoeuvre myself around, my muscles are already screaming.”
After all that there is a happy ending, Sam and Jen get married on page 345 and ‘I Have A Dream’ by Abba begins to play in the church. Kitch has its place after all.