Alice Hoffman - The Dovekeepers (2 stars)

Overworked historical drama with underdeveloped characters

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Alice Hoffman - The Dovekeepers

(Simon & Schuster)

Alice Hoffman is one of the big guns of American fiction and an Oprah favourite, but this overworked and overwrought novel rather contradicts that reputation. Set in 70AD in the aftermath of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, The Dovekeepers tells of four Jewish women who come by different routes to Masada, an ancient desert fortress, where they await a last stand against their oppressors.

The book is split into four first-person narratives delivered one after the other, and one of the many flaws here is that the voices of these women are virtually indistinguishable: they’re all strong, damaged, unfeasibly beautiful Jewish women carrying dark secrets. Their backstories and situations are told with unflinching brutality, but elsewhere Hoffman overeggs her prose horribly, seeking portent, resonance and omens in a relentlessly hamfisted fashion. The world Hoffman creates is vivid enough, but she doesn’t wear her copious research lightly, making for a novel that is full of bluster but strangely empty.

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