The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack

12/21/15

The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Two lovers who have traveled across time. A team of scientists at the cutting edge of memory research. A miracle drug that unlocks an ancient mystery.

Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artist whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret to his success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. When Bryan awakes, he possesses extraordinary new skills…like the ability to speak obscure languages and an inexplicable genius for chess. All his life, he has wondered if his dreams are recollections, if he is re-experiencing other people’s lives.

Linz Jacobs is a brilliant neurogeneticist, absorbed in decoding the genes that help the brain make memories, until she is confronted with an exact rendering of a recurring nightmare at one of Bryan’s shows. She tracks down the elusive artist, and their meeting triggers Bryan’s most powerful dream yet: visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, died in a lab explosion decades ago.

As Bryan becomes obsessed with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the scientists’ deaths, his dreams begin to reveal what happened at the lab, as well as a deeper mystery that may lead all the way to ancient Egypt. Together, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.

A taut thriller and a timeless love story spanning six continents and 10,000 years of history, The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack is a riveting debut novel unlike any you’ve ever read.

First, let me just say that it pains me to give this book only 3 stars; I wanted so desperately to love it. I mean, doesn’t that premise sound amazing? But sadly, this is one of those moments where, for me, the execution just didn’t quite live up to the promise of the concept.

I’m all for a complicated narrative, but unfortunately, this book’s plot is as tangled and confused as its genre. The narrative bounces between the present and historical flashbacks spanning 10,000 years, but there are also journal entries mixed throughout, creating a three-tiered, non-linear storytelling mess that even I struggled to keep straight. The fact that it’s also written from third-person, alternating POVs as well doesn’t help.

Knowing the genre would have helped me have the right expectations, but that aspect seems to be entirely open to interpretation, as the publisher proudly proclaims that they publish books that are impossible to categorize, the author calls it a supernatural historical thriller, and reviewers across the board throw every genre tag that even remotely fits at it. I think it took me about 3/4 of the book to get a true feel for the genre, which, in my opinion, is a science fiction/romantic suspense mash-up, and is something I wish had clicked sooner. Once that happened, my expectations fell into line and the narrative found its groove, but by then, the book was largely over.

I will say that the thriller aspects of the story were fantastic, and the core mystery surrounding the various memories/lives and how they all fit together was enough to keep me reading, but the romance side was predictable, at times too convenient, and often fell flat. I didn’t feel the chemistry between the characters and so much of the emotional resonance was lost. I understood why the romance erred on the side of insta-love, but it just never fully formed for me.

I fear some of the problems I’ve noted stem from the fact that this book may have been under-edited. I’m not generally one to criticize this aspect (being an editor myself), but this novel had an appalling number of errors considering the number of people cited at the end who worked on it. From typos, to stylistic inconsistencies, to narrative weaknesses, I found myself routinely pulled out of the story and wondering how amazing it could have been if edited properly.

So, in summary, while I give Womack kudos for attempting such an ambitious tale, I also feel that it wasn’t quite ready for publication yet. There were too many elements at play, too many things that could have been developed a little more, and there is virtually no resolution. The entire book feels like a precursor to the story we will, hopefully, get to see in the sequel. Overall, I was left feeling disappointed and slightly irritated that the only answers we were given were ones that could be guessed by the halfway point, but I will still read the next one. The Egyptian mythology and underlying concept are enough, for now, to keep me intrigued, but I’m definitely hoping that book 2 (if there is a book 2) doesn’t suffer from the same problems as the first.

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