But there wasn’t the natural humour of Dickens. Moore attempted regular jokes and wordplay, but they felt forced and uncomfortable. A writer, especially a literary author, sets the work’s tone by the description. Moore, through her narrator Tassie, regularly commented on the ugliness of nature, or neutral nature in ugly terms, with special mentions of dead birds and squirrels, and the amount of mould throughout the novel verged on the ridiculous. Added to this, I never sensed I could know the characters. Not only did Moore emphasise the “phoniness” of people, but they seemed to change, not by character development, but as if they were arbitrarily replaced by people with the same name and different personality. All in all, I found that a sense of depression and hopelessness pervaded the novel, and did not want to live in Tassie’s world. To quote my sister when describing a gloomy train guard, Tassie’s world sounded like “the worst place imaginable, where the sun never shines and everyone is dead.”
Not a lot happened, plot-wise, for the first two thirds of the novel, and when plot did begin, it was very disjointed and unlikely. One criticism you can’t make of this book is predictability. Of the three major, dramatic plot twists, two came without any warning, out of the blue and then ended just as abruptly. The third involved Tassie’s family, who were featured briefly at the beginning and then, again briefly, about halfway through, as if Moore had forgotten all about them, before playing their crucial part in the last few pages of the book. And when the story happened, it happened all at once and was so melodramatic and relentlessly miserable that I revised my description of the work from "Dickens without the natural humour" to "Hardy - Jude The Obscure era."
Aside from the story, it also felt as though Moore was trying to tackle some major issues: race, parenting, family, identity and politics, but despite sometimes almost putting in arrows to say “Look! This is an important issue!” and having some scenes of unlabelled dialogue reeling off snippets of opinion, these were never really explored enough to call them “themes.” I found myself at a loss as to what Moore was trying to say, which wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if this was a story-based book. But story, here, takes a back seat amongst the issue-highlighting and the mould.