Monday, 9 April 2012

The Fiddler - Beverly Lewis


PROS: Will appeal to those who daydream about visiting Amish country to experience peace and contentment; interesting details about Amelia as a violinist 

CONS: Predictable plot; too much head-hopping between points of view means that the reader never connects with any of the characters; not as deep or complex as her previous novels 

Amelia DeVries is living a double life – she’s a world-famous concert violinist who occasionally sneaks away from her overbearing father to play at more relaxed fiddling events. After being caught by her agent after one of her secret performances and pressured to sign on for a classical European tour, Amelia takes off on a more scenic route home through Pennsylvania. Finding herself stranded with a flat tire and no cell phone reception, she comes across Michael Hostetler, an Amish man who has left his family and is temporarily living in a cabin in the woods. They connect when they realise that they’re both running away from their real lives. While Amelia waits for her car to be fitted with a new tire, she visits Michael’s Amish community, Hickory Hollow, and finds an unexpected sense of peace and contentment. When she finally decides to return to her home in Ohio, she can’t help but take a little bit of the Amish lifestyle with her, and use her newfound faith in God to help her make some difficult decisions about her musical career. Will these choices eventually bring her back to Hickory Hollow and Michael? 

Like most fans of Amish fiction, I got started with Beverly Lewis. Over ten years since she entered the market with The Shunning, Beverly still remains a good “starter” author for those just getting into the Amish genre. She has a good grasp of the quirks of the Amish lifestyle and consistently creates engaging characters and storylines that bring readers back to her with each series she writes. As such, I had high hopes for The Fiddler, the first novel in the Home to Hickory Hollow series, especially as it returns to the community that featured in The Shunning. Sadly, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with this most recent novel. I may not have read all of her books, but those that I have read I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and The Fiddler did not live up to Beverly’s usual standards. If I have to be entirely honest, this didn’t even feel like a Beverly Lewis novel. The overall plot was pretty predictable and lacked the drama and engaging characters and complex family struggles of her previous books. 

I will concede that while The Fiddler is relatively predictable, it does not completely follow the formulaic Amish plot of the English woman who falls in love with an Amish man and his lifestyle and then converts to the faith. Amelia doesn’t convert to the Amish faith – how could she, being a musician? – but she does experience a stupendous amount of peace and contentment as a result of spending a couple of days among the Amish, and makes a connection with God during her trip. That’s not to say that all Amish romance are uninteresting because they contain many similar elements, but I didn’t feel that The Fiddler really did anything particularly unusual with its characters, setting or storyline to make it stand out from the plethora of Amish novels already on the market. Considering the novels I’ve previously read by Beverly Lewis, many of which delve into the theological implications of the faith while continuing to develop relationships between characters and their families, The Fiddler fell a little short. Rather than continuing on from the successes of the drama-riddled Heritage of Lancaster County series or the Abram’s Daughters series, I felt that The Fiddler was instead buying into every reader’s secret dream of visiting an Amish community and finding the signature sense of peace and simplicity that the Amish are so famous for. I’ll admit it, I’d love to do this someday – but I don’t imagine my experience would be exciting enough to write a book about. 

I wouldn’t have minded the simplicity of Amelia and Michael’s romance so much if it weren’t for the way that their story was told. While written in third-person point of view, The Fiddler head-hopped between Amelia, Michael and Michael’s mother. Even if Michael’s mother had been taken out of the equation – a good move, I believe, as her perspective added very little to the novel – the frequency at which Beverly jumped from one character to another made it very hard to make any connections with them. I’d just be starting to get inside Amelia’s head when suddenly the perspective would switch to Michael, or his mother, and I’d lose what little I had grasped of her personality and emotions. Sometimes it seemed like each character was only given ten or so paragraphs before the book switched to the next character, not even enough to truly establish the scene. Despite the predictability of the plot, I honestly think it could have been strengthened if the storytelling had been stronger and hadn’t jumped around so much. A standard romance can make itself into something more exciting simply with the addition of colourful, realistic characters. Amelia and Michael had the potential to be more than cardboard cut-outs, but as I never truly got the chance to experience their emotions and inner turmoil, I can’t say that they were as engaging as the protagonists in other Amish novels I’ve read. 

The Fiddler certainly has some potential, particularly coming from an established novelist like Beverly Lewis. The premise of a young woman finding peace in Amish country and re-evaluating her life as a result of her experiences will certainly grab the attention of many Amish readers, and the depth of research that Beverly has undertaken in order to make Amelia’s musical talents appear authentic certainly brought that aspect of the novel to life. Unfortunately, this is where the novel’s strengths end, and The Fiddler doesn’t measure up to Beverly’s previous books. I genuinely missed the depth of character development that I’d experienced in earlier novels, and I struggled in my attempts to connect with Amelia and Michael due to the incessant head-hopping. The Fiddler is a gentle, sweet romance but ultimately rather predictable, and while newcomers to Beverly’s work may enjoy this novel, I’m afraid that many fans may be disappointed by the lack of depth and complexity. 

Review title provided by Bethany House.

1 comment:

  1. It's been a while since I read her books but I think I really liked The Shunning. My mom read them all!