We were kindly gifted copies of The White Rock by Anna Hope by the publishers for our reading group, and we were quite eager to read it. The book starts in 2020 with a minibus of strangers on a pilgrimage to the White Rock off the Pacific Coast in Mexico. We meet a writer, in the last days of her marriage, looking for a story to write and travelling to give thanks for the birth of her child. The book then takes us through 3 other characters’ experiences with the White Rock, including a singer in the late 60s (based on Jim Morrison), an indigenous girl forcibly taken to the rock in 1907, and a Spanish naval lieutenant in 1775 who loses his mind.
The book is written in a symmetrical chiastic structure (find out more here) and the readers liked the style and structure of the book. We thought it was well written, and enjoyed the language used. Unfortunately most of the group were underwhelmed with the book as a whole, and a couple of us had struggled to finish it. One reader commented that the chapters were too long and that they were waiting for a chapter to end whilst reading it- never a good sign!
There were some interesting aspects, one of our readers talked about learning new things as a result of reading the book, appreciating the insights into history that it gave- the slavery of the indigenous peoples, and the foundation of San Francisco. Others didn’t feel connected enough to the novel or enjoy it enough for it to have affected them very much, if at all.
The stories of the lieutenant and the girl seemed to resonate most with the group, with the singer and writer almost universally being disliked. The pages attributed to the White Rock in the middle of the novel were odd, and although the rock provided a link through the stories, it didn’t grip us.
The reading group identified themes of insanity, violence and overall a feeling of uncertainty in the book. The husband of the writer character in the book tells her that “we have always lived in uncertain times” and we could see how the unresolved nature of the characters’ stories reinforced that idea. For the most part though, we felt it wasn’t particularly unified, despite the structure of the novel.
To sum up then, we felt a little underwhelmed by the novel, especially given some of the plaudits on the cover and on other reviews.
We’re not having a reading group book in December, instead we’ll invite you to come to our January meeting with a favourite book to recommend to us, or perhaps to show us what books you found in your Christmas stocking.We’d love to see you, get in touch and we’ll send out the invite! Library@geh.nhs.uk