Thursday, 7 July 2016

Book Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

Review by Iola Goulton

I selected Claiming Noah for review because it had an interesting description, and because NetGalley (where I get most of the books I review) said it was published by Faithwords/Center Street, who also publish authors such as Ted Dekker and Joyce Meyer. Sure, some of their titles are aimed at the general market rather than the Christian market, but I still figured that if Claiming Noah would therefore be written from a Christian perspective even if it was aimed at the general market.

My mistake.

Claiming Noah opened with a quote from The Prophet, which was an indication that it wasn’t Christian fiction. This was soon confirmed by some of the character histories: none of the characters attended church or had any faith to speak of (although they were all Roman Catholic), Catriona and James started trying to get pregnant as soon as they got engaged, James was on probation following a drug conviction, and two of the characters went on to have extra-marital affairs (although there were no on-the-page sex scenes, thank goodness).

But the premise was fascinating.

And I was interested enough in that premise that I still wanted to read Claiming Noah even knowing it wasn’t going to be Christian fiction. As an aside, it also turned out to be that awkward brand of general market fiction where they feature caricatures of Christian characters, in this case, a Roman Catholic priest who seemed to exist only to lecture Diana and Liam on their choice to adopt an embryo. Yes, I understand this is the official position of the Catholic church, but the ethics of embryo adoption wasn’t actually the story so this lecture wasn’t necessary.

Instead of being about the ethics of IVF, embryo adoption or even surrogacy, Claiming Noah was more reminiscent of the biblical story of Solomon and the two babies. Here’s the book description I read on NetGalley:
This riveting debut novel of psychological suspense explores the dilemmas that arise when motherhood and science collide.

Catriona Sinclair has always had a well-developed sense of independence--in fact the one sore point in her otherwise happy marriage is her husband James's desire to take care of her. As she's often tried to explain to him, she took care of herself before she met him, and did a good job of it. But James has been especially attentive lately as they struggle to have a baby. They succeed at last through in vitro fertilization, but unwilling to risk the heartbreak of another miscarriage, they decide to make their "spare" frozen embryo available to another family.

Diana and Liam Simmons are desperate for a child. Unable to conceive, they are overjoyed to learn that as the closest genetic match to the Sinclairs they are the recipients of the embryo donation. Diana's only concern is her mother's disapproval of IVF, but any doubts raised are quickly eclipsed by Diana's joy of being pregnant.

As Diana is finding delight in every aspect of motherhood, Catriona keeps waiting for the rush of adoration she knows she is supposed to feel, but instead slips into a deep depression. Just as Catriona begins to find her way back to normalcy, one of the babies is kidnapped. Suddenly, all of their lives begin to unravel and intertwine, and none of them will ever be the same.
And here’s the description from Amazon:
Catriona and James are desperate for children, and embark on an IVF program. After a gruelling round of treatments, Catriona finally falls pregnant, and they donate their remaining embryo anonymously.
Diana and Liam are on a waiting list to receive an embryo. Sooner than expected, they are thrilled to discover one is available.
After a difficult pregnancy, Catriona gives birth to Sebastian. But severe postnatal depression affects her badly, and quickly turns into deadly psychosis. For her protection and her baby’s, she’s admitted into psychiatric care. When she comes home, she again struggles to bond with her baby, but gradually life finds its own rhythm.
Meanwhile, Diana has given birth to a beautiful little boy, Noah. But when he is two months old Noah is abducted … and Diana and Liam’s nightmare begins.
Where is Noah?

The NetGalley book description should have given me one big clue about the book, a clue that’s only emphasized by the adverb-laden Amazon description:

The writing isn’t up to the standard I expect from major publishers.

Claiming Noah is full of interior monologue and back story, most of which is telling the reader about something that happened instead of showing us in real time. The characterization is patchy: while Catriona (the biological mother) and Diana (the adoptive mother) are both solid characters, the minor characters need work, especially the men. The only male characters who don’t come across as self-absorbed and shallow were the gay couple. In Catriona’s case, I would have liked to have better understood her descent into postpartum psychosis.

My other issue with the writing was around the setting: 

Claiming Noah is set in Sydney, yet there is nothing uniquely Australian about it—it could be set in any English-speaking city near a beach. I’m not sure who is responsible for this: I’ve now found out it was published by Simon & Schuster Australia in 2015, while the version I read is the 2016 American release. Did the Australian version have mom and takeout? Or fish and French fries on the beach? Or have those been changed for the American audience?

And the plot got predictable. 

The biggest surprise was Noah’s kidnapping, which wouldn't be a surprise at all if you'd read the book description (I'd read it, but forgotten). The answer to "Where is Noah?" was even more obvious. The main plot points were all in the right places and everything seemed to make sense, there were a couple of instances where the novel went back in time as it switched between Diana and Catriona’s points of view. This was both a little confusing, and ruined the suspense.

Overall, while Claiming Noah had great potential to be a psychological thriller along the lines of Jodi Picoult, the pedestrian writing and predictable plot elements meant it was merely okay, at least for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Center Street for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amanda Ortlepp at her website, and you can read the opening below:

1 comment:

  1. What a strange sounding book! I agree, the premise should mean a suspenseful,intriguing story. Sorry to hear it wasn't all that great.


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