book review: White Fur by Jardine Libaire

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WHITE FUR by Jardine Libaire
★☆☆☆☆
US pub date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Hogarth Press
My review on Goodreads

Alright guys, it looks like I’m gonna be in the minority with this one. This is Fates and Furies all over again.

White Fur was a long, painful slog for me. I thought this book was overwritten and vapid; the characters were loathsome and one-dimensional; and perhaps most frustratingly, there was a distinct lack of subtlety to a narrative which was anemic to begin with. Filthy rich Jamey falls in love with Elise from the wrong side of the tracks, and… they have a lot of sex. That’s it. That’s the book. If you’re expecting a nuanced examination of class differences, keep looking, because there’s none of that here.

Take this passage, where Elise is meeting Jamey’s family:

Elise should be a Dartmouth lacrosse star whose granddad went to Groton with Bats, and she should be bronzed from the Vineyard, lips opaquely shiny from Chapstick. So happy to meet you, Mr. Hyde!

But no! Jamey is pushing forward the real Elise, in couture dress, shins bruised from basketball, cornrows latticing her lean head, feet wedged into slingbacks.

Getting hit by a freight train whose sides are painted with the words THEY COME FROM DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS may have been more subtle, but okay. And this wouldn’t be quite so bad if it weren’t literally the entire book. There is absolutely no depth here. Jamey is rich and handsome and discontent and restrained, and Elise is poor and crass and loud and impulsive. Jardine Libaire leaves all her cards on the table by the end of the second chapter. There is nothing left to discover about these characters when every facet of their practically non-existent personalities has been spelled out from the very first page.

There’s something undeniably voyeuristic about the way this story is spun. This book isn’t romantic. It’s gritty, dirty, raw. It’s about the ugly sides of relationships, about jealousy and obsession. But that wasn’t the problem, because in theory that all sounds great to me. I love books that take a conventional premise and then spin the narrative in a different direction. It’s Romeo and Juliet but instead of love it’s passion, lust, obsession? Cool. Sounds fun.

But it wasn’t. I just didn’t care. Why was I suffering through the uncomfortable experience of acting as a voyeur into the lives of these two characters who bored me to tears? The answer is because I don’t DNF books. That’s it. That’s the only thing that kept me going. There was absolutely no intrigue, and absolutely no payoff for sticking with it as long as I did.

I thought the prose was terrible. It was trying so hard to come across as devil-may-care that I felt an acute sense of secondhand embarrassment for how much it did care. Each sentence felt artificially manufactured with MFA-degree precision (not that there’s anything wrong with getting an MFA in creative writing, but sometimes it just shows; what should come across as effortless becomes painfully obtrusive on every page.) What we’re left with isn’t artistic or poignant or emotional or insightful, it’s mostly just insipid.

(Vaguely NSFW text ahead, this quote is taken from a sex scene.)

Jamey is starting to operate in a trance, biting his lip. He’s a mystical vision of an orangutan in a nature show. He actually has the thought: I’m a monkey, and that’s okay. He’s got a dumb look on his face and that’s okay. For a minute, an hour later, right before he comes again, with two tongues licking him like kittens, he understands everything.

I’m sorry, but what is the point? Is this supposed to be profound? Sexy? Shocking? It’s not any of those things. It’s awkward. It’s dumb. It’s embarrassing. I could not stop cringing the entire time I was reading this.

But in an effort of not ending on a terribly negative note: none of my Goodreads friends who have read this have given it less than 4 stars. This is clearly a matter of personal taste, so if you think this sounds like the sort of thing you’ll like, give it a try! And I’m sorry for being so negative, but this is one of those books which managed to tick every item on a checklist I didn’t even know I had of things I hate in fiction. Sorry White Fur, we were like oil and water from the beginning.

Thank you Netgalley and Penguin First to Read for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from an ARC copy and may be edited before publication.