book review: Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton

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REMEMBERED by Yvonne Battle-Felton
★★☆☆☆
Dialogue Books, 2019 (UK)

 

Well that was… underwhelming. I had been saving this book for last in my Women’s Prize longlist read through, hoping to end the list on a high, but that sure didn’t go as planned. To be honest I don’t even have a great reason for disliking Remembered as much as I did, because objectively, I think this book is perfectly fine, it’s just… not much more than that.

I have to first express my annoyance at this book’s marketing, which I’m certainly not holding against Yvonne Battle-Felton, but it was frustrating nonetheless to be expecting a book about 1910 Philadelphia and ending up with a book about US Civil War era slavery, which isn’t even mentioned in any professional summaries that I’ve read of this book. What begins as a story about an African American man driving a streetcar into a shop window quickly devolves into an extended flashback of the family’s history, and though we return briefly to 1910 a few times, that narrative thread is only really picked back up in the last 5 pages. So, just know what exactly you’re signing up for.

But the fact that this book ended up being about slavery isn’t the problem, at all, it’s just that the execution comes up short of what it’s trying to achieve. At a slim 288 pages, this book is lacking the heft needed to successfully pull off the multi-generational family saga formula. The flashbacks just zip along without landing on any kind of emotional resonance, and the newer generation’s narrative doesn’t really thematically dovetail into the backstory beyond a very bare-bones parallel. Everything about this was disjointed and poorly paced, and I didn’t find myself emotionally affected by any of it in the way I arguably should have. So while this wasn’t a great note to end on, Women’s Prize-wise, it did end up being emblematic of a large part of this list for me: a brilliant set-up whose execution felt more like a first draft than a finished novel.


You can pick up a copy of Remembered here on Book Depository.

21 thoughts on “book review: Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton

    • It certainly was! I try to stay open-minded when I read so I’m very willing to be won over by a premise I hadn’t been expecting, but then the execution completely fell flat. It’s such a shame. At any rate, thanks, I hope so too!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh absolutely – I found the dialect wildly inconsistent and I was about to mention the head hopping but just reread your comment and see you’re already on it. I really thought this might be the hidden gem of the entire list for me but it ended up being one of the worst.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Although I really enjoyed the book, I was also frustrated to find that the book wasn’t grounded in 1910 Philadelphia. I thought it was me just being naive and even ignorant to be somewhat surprised by the slavery narrative so it’s interesting to hear that another reader felt the same!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely not just you! I’ve talked to a few other people who had the same reaction. Frankly I don’t understand the decision to write the blurb this way – maybe ‘1910 Philadelphia’ sounded more unique and marketable than ‘slave story’…? But it’s such a shame when false expectations unnecessarily cloud a reader’s experience with a book!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay for finishing the list!!
    I saved this one for last also and was a bit underwhelmed. I completely agree that what threw me off most was the quick departure from 1910 Philadelphia, and the connection between the present and the past seemed tenuous at best. I second your opinion that this was another sad case of an excellent idea that just wasn’t quite realized in its execution.
    I hope you have better luck with your next read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll have to go back and re-read your review, because it sounds like we have a lot of similar thoughts! This and Praise Song were the two books that really felt to me like first drafts. Definitely promising first drafts, but also… HOW did either of these get published without significant edits??? This book was just messy.

      Also, this has nothing to do with anything but I just had the realization that your posts rarely ever show up in my WordPress reader for some reason…? I just clicked on your blog and realized there were A TON I’ve missed. I’ll catch up in a little bit!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I got along with Remembered slightly better than you did, but I would definitely agree that it felt messy, and comparable to Praise Song. Promising concepts for sure, but I’m more surprised that seems to be enough to qualify them for award nominations even if editors/publishers somehow came to the conclusion that they were in their best form. Which I don’t think they were, either.

        No worries! I wonder if WordPress has just been extra glitchy lately. I’ve had trouble with being able to see my notifications in the app as well, and sometimes when I think I’m caught up in the Reader I end up finding more posts on a second pass than showed up originally? I hope it gets straightened out!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I feel like it’s been extra glitchy too! It’s frustrating because I follow a ton of blogs but I still expect my WP reader to capture all new posts? And that’s pretty much the only way I check up on blogs – I want to avoid having to bookmark my favorites since I do a lot of my blog reading on my work computer and don’t want to save a ton of personal stuff in this browser!

        Like

      • That makes sense. I don’t like saving a ton of bookmarks even on my personal computer, so I also expect the Reader to keep up! I guess I’ve been assuming that I’m catching everything by going through the reader twice and finding more posts, but I’m more concerned now about what I might be missing. :/

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oddly unsurprised that this was underwhelming, though of course I’m sorry that it was the last one you read – never fun to finish a project with a bad taste in your mouth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did have some last minute trepidation after seeing Laura and Rebecca’s reactions, but for some reason I really thought this might be the hidden gem of the entire list (once Bottled Goods let me down – not that I disliked it, but that was the first ‘unknown’ book I hinged my hopes on and just found it serviceable). Alas 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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