The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp (2013) by Eva Rice
I think The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp is Eva Rice's fourth novel. I might be wrong about that number, but in any case, it is the long-awaited follow-up to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, which was published in 2005. I believe this book was originally slated to be published under the title The Dragonfly Summer, and it appears to have been delayed so many times I had started to think it would never see the light of day. I'm still not sure why, exactly, it has taken so long for this book to be published, but I was delighted to spot a review of it in a magazine and snapped it up as soon as I could (although that somehow ended up being two months after it came out!)
Tara Jupp, one of eight siblings growing up in 1950s Cornwall, is (unsurprisingly) the central character of this lengthy novel: it's basically her life story, although her older sister Lucy and Lucy's childhood best friend Matilda also feature prominently. As a horse-mad teenager, Tara is perfectly happy with her idyllic country life, but her impressive singing voice leads to her being noticed by the manager of a record label. Afterwards, she is offered the chance to record and perform her music in London, receives a glamorous makeover and becomes caught up with the 'it crowd' of the time, and all the while various family dramas and private emotional issues bubble away in the background. It is obvious from the beginning that Tara is narrating her story from a perspective long after these events took place - she occasionally refers to 'what happened afterwards' or something that was said or done 'much later'. The book is divided into three parts: the first concentrates on Tara's childhood, with much of the drama focused on Lucy and Matilda; the second, and longest, deals with her move to London and rise to fame; the third, which is quite short, is about the aftermath of that, and wraps all the loose ends of the story up.
In a number of ways, this novel is very similar to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets: in fact, a number of the characters from that book actually make appearances in this one at various points (I was quite excited to discover this, even though it's been years since I read Lost Art), so the stories are obviously very closely interlinked, and you get to discover what happened to those characters after the events of that book. The author has also used a number of historical figures, from architecture historian Nikolaus Pevsner to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, as characters in the novel. And it's very, very meta - for example, when two characters are having a conversation about another character who's writing a book, and they talk about how dangerous it is to use real people as characters...! There are constant knowing references to literary devices that are actually used in the book, and Tara occasionally addresses the reader directly, although it's not exactly clear what kind of account this is supposed to be. If you ask me, it sometimes gets a bit too clever for its own good.
The problem with Tara's 'future' narration was that it made me feel disassociated from what was happening - like I couldn't really get close to the character, because she was describing a past version of herself, yet not really giving any clues about what kind of person she was in the present day, whenever that was actually supposed to be. Somehow, though, I really loved the first part of the book, perhaps because it was more of an observation of the two older girls than a story about Tara herself. The Jupps' upbringing and Tara's relationships with her brothers and sisters, her idolatry of Lucy and Matilda, the wonderful settings (especially Trellanack, the ancestral home of Matilda's family)... It was all very romantic and magical. It was when the action moved to London that I started to lose interest and have doubts about the plot. Once Tara was supposed to be (at least halfway) 'grown up', I stopped believing in her. I was more invested in Lucy's story, which is really more of a subplot, than Tara's. I didn't like one of the central romantic entanglements, nor did I find it believable; and because Tara herself wasn't bothered about being successful or famous, I found it hard to care about that. When I reviewed Lost Art, I wrote that my main problem with the book was its predictability, and that was also an issue here. It was glaringly obvious who Tara would end up with and - while I'm not going to pretend the romantic bits didn't move me at all - there wasn't much suspense, nothing to really root for (other than for Lucy to be happy... and I don't think that was the point).
Something else that annoyed me was that I found quite a few spelling mistakes, errors of repetition and incorrect punctuation (lots of missing commas!) in the Kindle copy I was reading. 'Two sizes two small' and 'your' instead of 'you're' were the worst I spotted, but there were lots altogether. Given that this book took years to publish, you'd think those could have been weeded out!
If The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets was, as I wrote when I reviewed it, 'the literary equivalent of a huge slice of chocolate cake', The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp was more like a packet of chocolate biscuits - sweet and pleasant enough, but not the indulgent treat I was hoping for. It started with a lot of promise, and after the first few chapters I was expecting an epic life story that would span decades and take in Tara's whole career. Unfortunately, and despite the lengthiness of the book (the print edition is 584 pages), it didn't turn out that way, and although I still cared about what happened in the end, I found myself losing some of my sympathy and interest in the characters. I quite liked reading this - it's pretty absorbing, especially at the beginning, and a decent bit of escapism when you want to get away from the real world - but I can't pretend I wasn't a bit disappointed.
Rating: 6/10 | My full review on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon: Kindle & Hardback