Fernweh is Fareh Iqbal’s second novel, following The Bookkeeper’s Daughter. It follows an adventure of Jordan Castlemoore, a library worker who takes a trip to Paris where she unwittingly becomes a modern-day Marie Antoinette (yet fortunately doesn’t suffer the same fate). Jordan, who is the cousin of The Bookkeeper’s Daughter‘s Franchesca Driftwood, has a nagging longing to be somewhere else. She feels a wanderlust, or a Fernweh, but more specifically a homesickness for a place where she has never been. That place ends up being Paris, the magical romantic city of light. On her first full day in the French capital Jordan goes out in search of a crepe breakfast. What she finds will alter her life when she gets on the wrong bus and is transported to another world.
The other world in Fernweh is not a trip through time as in The Bookkeeper’s Daughter, but a transportation to the parallel reality of the court of Marie Antoinette at Versailles. Jordan meets a stunning man named William who along with some friends persuade Jordan to play the role of Marie Antoinette at a ball happening that very evening. Iqbal knows her French history and spent great detail in describing the painstaking care and excessive attention needed to dress the queen of France. I could, in all honesty, visualize myself in Jordan’s place as she was wig-fitted, powdered, buttoned up and corseted.
The story takes a turn when William whisks Jordan away to the Hall of Mirrors where they spend the night in G-rated passion. I was again charmed by Iqbal’s storytelling and since I know that the author herself has been to Paris, I can imagine her walking along the Seine gaining inspiration for a future novel. The personal touch is an integral part of Fernweh, and Iqbal writes about Paris with the passion of a first-time visitor like Jordan. I wonder how personal the following paragraph was to Iqbal; I certainly enjoyed reading it over and over as I can see Jordan wincing in her own recollection:
“She looked fondly at the retouched photograph she had of her parents on their honeymoon in Paris. Jordan had come along exactly nine months after. The only way to romanticize the traumatizing thought of her parents being biblically together was that if she could be conceived in any city in the world she was glad that it was Paris.”
My review will not spoil the story but I will report that when Jordan returns home to Canada she must face the forces that are compelling her to follow her happiness. Jordan claims to have found herself in Paris, but will she return?
While my review merits the book three stars out of five, I would have awarded it four if the book had been passed under the eyes of an editor. I am sorry to report that Fernweh was polluted with careless errors which would have been easily spotted by a second pair of eyes. My reviews are always written without prejudice; no one escapes my eagle-eye editorial scrutiny. I review everything I read and must point out how distracting it was to encounter error upon error. Iqbal’s biggest fault is her lack of punctuation. Far too many sentences were run-ons, and I am experiencing a case of déjà vu since I recall that I wrote exactly the same thing about The Bookkeeper’s Daughter. The flow of the read was ruined when a sentence must be stopped and started over in order to comprehend it. Unfortunately Iqbal’s lack of punctuation forced me to stop and parse her sentences myself. A typical example of a sentence lacking proper punctuation is:
“It’s a weird age group your late twenties, Jordan reflected dipping her baby carrots in the little container of hummus and taking a contemplative bite, you aren’t in the bloom of youth nor are you an old maiden but that space somewhere in between where you’re almost who you want to be but still have the time to make a few detours.”
Make this two sentences or punctuate it properly as one.
Iqbal frequently spelled compounds as two words and these inconsistencies were striking because they were incorrect. I passed over plenty of them when they occurred only once, but noted only those which Iqbal subsequently spelled correctly, sometimes only a few lines later. She also alternated between variant spellings. It was easy to flip back a page to find the same word spelled differently. Such examples include: candle lit and candlelit; curtsy and curtsey; side walk and sidewalk; eye brow and eyebrow; table cloth and tablecloth; eying and eyeing; Mont Martre and Montmartre. A gentleman named Phillipe is introduced and then three lines later his name is Philip. We see the word bookstall near the end of page 81 and a mere two lines later it is spelled as book stalls.
Page 184 was the guiltiest page, containing no less than three separate errors:
“To Jordan’s delight, William reddened slightly and cleared his his throat.”
“The music of her laughter, made William somewhat appreciate the absurdity of the situation.”
Less often were errors of comma placement when no comma was needed at all.
“Voila! C’est Marie Anoinette!”
I cannot excuse the incorrect French that is spoken–not by Jordan–but by the Parisians she meets. The French characters seem less believable if they aren’t even speaking their own language correctly. I spotted several errors, such as the question “Comprendez?” when it should be “Comprenez?” and the line (complete with an erroneous comma) “Bonjour Madames et, Monsieurs…” when it should be “Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs…”. The characters eat a lot of macaroons for which I am sure Iqbal meant macarons. If you’re going to include a foreign language in your work, have a native speaker look at it first.
But still, no editor of English would have missed:
“She caught a glimpse of a tattoo snaking it’s way around his waist.”
“Ripping a piece of paper from the hotel’s stationary pad…”
“It was an emotional damn that burst through…”
Iqbal is a promising writer, and it is a shame that her first two works are sullied by errors that an editor–or at least a trained set of eyes–could so easily catch. In spite of this, I do look forward to reading the next two books in the Iqbal oeuvre.