Recent Reading: The Unsinkable Greta James

So: The Unsinkable Greta James

“A Novel.” Do you see that? Small, italicized, off to the side? What does “A Novel” imply to you?

Here’s what it should imply: Not a romance. Because … it’s not a romance. We all know the fundamental requirement for a romance is a HEA (happily ever after) or sometimes a HFN (happily for now) ending, and, spoiler, but I’m betting the reader might prefer to know up front that although the ending is fine, it’s neither of the above. It’s not like it’s a sad ending, or at least I didn’t take it that way, but it’s not the ending of a romance novel.

Nor is the central relationship in this story the romantic relationship. That is secondary, or even tertiary. The primary relationship is the daughter/father relationship. From the description, I knew that was important. But if this novel were a romance, then the daughter/father relationship would have been secondary, whereas it’s really primary.

So, what about that relationship?

The author made this work better for me than I might have expected, considering that it was a pretty bad relationship to start with. It’s interesting because Greta thinks, and says explicitly, that the bad relationship is almost entirely her father’s fault … and she’s right! It totally is! I would not have expected that. I’m not sure what I think of setting it up that way. It flattens Greta’s character arc because her role is to understand and forgive her father’s pretty dire parenting mistakes, not to realize that his mistakes were actually not as dire as she thought when she was twelve.

His mistakes, by the way, involved failure to realize his daughter was her own person and was never going to be his clone, followed by failure to recognize her success as, basically, a rock star. I certainly understand a parent’s desire for a child to have a Plan B rather than pin all their hopes and dreams on being a rock star. But her father was astoundingly unsupportive given his daughter’s obvious level of commitment, and continued being unsupportive as she actually became successful. So his mistakes were indeed pretty bad.

But were his mistakes unforgiveable? I’m interested to see that some reviews come down on the “yes” side on that question. To me, the answer is obviously “no.” Being unsupportive out of fear that his child will crash and burn and have a much worse life than he wants for her … that’s definitely forgivable. As far as I’m concerned, unforgivable includes fathers like Yaro inTasiyo, not fathers like Greta’s. So for me, it’s important that the main arc of this story is toward … not understanding. Greta understands her father pretty well. But acceptance on both sides, and forgiveness primarily from her toward her father.

The author made this work for me, and since I like story arcs involving redemption and forgiveness, that means I wound up liking this story quite a bit, even though I was quite surprised to discover it wasn’t a romance.

So, what about the romance subplot?

It was believable, I liked both participants and how they were with each other, and I would have preferred an ending that led toward a future happily ever after for the two of them, instead of an ending that was utterly, completely open ended. That’s because I really do appreciate romances.

However, I actually also liked the actual ending. It was certainly different to read a novel where the female lead not only thinks that honestly, she’s fine on her own, but in fact that’s true, she really is fine on her own. That may be a first. I think if I’d been writing this, I might have come down even more solidly on the “fine on her own” ending. Greta is putting her music first. She really is. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate choice. Since that basically never happens in fiction, good for her, and good for the author, writing it that way.

What else?

When this story opens, Greta’s mother is very recently deceased. I started this book the day before MY mother was due to have surgery, and at once stopped. A recently deceased mother in the backstory was not going to work for me right then. But I picked it up again after everything went well. Having finished the story, I have to say, it’s interesting to me that one of the most powerfully drawn characters is actually the deceased mother. She’s considerably better developed than the clutter of elderly couples, for example, even though she’s not there.

I’m sure there are other stories where someone recently deceases is so very present … well, of course, TANO, but I’m thinking of present in a good way. I really liked Greta’s mom. And I loved how memories of Greta’s mom led into the very last scene of Greta’s dad. That brought the story to a satisfying conclusion even in the absence of the romance ending.

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4 thoughts on “Recent Reading: The Unsinkable Greta James”

  1. What an interesting review! I was convinced the ending was romantic! I thought the novel was about change: Greta’s dad was capable of demonstrating his love, Greta realized she did not want to be alone, Ben was able to make his own changes. I was sure they were going to meet up, but I guess you are right and the ending is open. I loved the writing. It was almost enough for me to consider going on a cruise.

  2. I would love to go on an Alaskan cruise!

    Maybe they did meet up — but I think it’s very possible, even probable, that they did not, at least not then, right after the story ended. But it’s easy to visualize that evening going in lots of very different directions.

  3. The only cruise I want to do is the antarctic one to see penguins (when I go to AK I’m visiting family, inland). Which, similar idea I guess.

    But! Ursula Vernon is doing another Twitter choose your own adventure – same dungeon, same finch, new explorer

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