A Disappointing Novel: ‘The Shadow Land’ by Elizabeth Kostova

‘Soon after arriving in Bulgaria a young American helps an elderly couple into a taxi – and realises too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers an urn filled with human ashes. As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she gradually uncovers the secrets of a talented musician shattered by oppression – and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.’

9781911231103I have now resigned myself to the fact that Kostova will probably never again reach the heady heights of The Historian, a book which I have read twice and loved even more the second time around. The Swan Thieves, her second novel, was markedly disappointing, but I did struggle through to the end, something which I could not bear to do with her third effort, The Shadow Land.

The novel is set in Sofia, Bulgaria, a city which I recently visited and absolutely loved. The city itself is not well evoked within The Shadow Land, and neither is Bulgarian culture. Kostova flits back and forth in time to her protagonist Alexandra Boyd’s childhood in the US, using her first person perspective in which to do so, and rendering the present day story in a third person narrative voice. Alexandra’s voice is not at all convincing, and I found Kostova’s writing rather dull in places; even her descriptions are rather ordinary.

The Shadow Land sounded like a promising book, but it failed to pull me in, and it got to the point where I simply could not stand to read more about the very annoying Alexandra. I think it is high time to give up on reading Kostova’s future work.

3 thoughts on “A Disappointing Novel: ‘The Shadow Land’ by Elizabeth Kostova

  1. I completely agree with you ! Kostova was paired in conversation at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this year with a Tasmanian Heather Rose the writer of a wonderful novel about performance artist Marina Abramovich . I was convinced that it was going to be a good read , and as I was teaching Stasiland by Anna Funder , about life in the GDR before 1989 , I even suggested it for my highly literary bookgroup. What a disappointment it has been . Cliched and flat writing , a highly implausible plot , and as you say, I didn’t even get to learn very much about Bulgaria , apart from its Stalinist past .

    • It’s an awful shame, isn’t it? I’ve heard quite mixed things about ‘The Historian’ over the last few years, but really appreciated the depths the novel went to. This seems as though it was written by an entirely different author at times!

  2. Pingback: Rezension - The Shadow Land - Books and a Cuppa Tea

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