The Bookkeeper’s Daughter is a charming first novel by young talent Fareh Iqbal. Iqbal has now written four books and I will read all of them in order (yet not back-to-back). The Bookkeeper’s Daughter tells the story of Franchesca Driftwood, nicknamed Ray, who runs her late father’s bookstore. The story describes her encounter with a strange customer, James, who takes her on a fantastic journey. James gives Ray a magical book that changes its appearance and contents and enables Ray to teleport through time to meet her heroes such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley and Virginia Woolf. I was impressed with Iqbal’s use of imagery and literary allusion. In referencing the literary masters Iqbal at least presents to the reader the knowledge of having actually read the classics. She is unlike other writers, one of whom I recently reviewed twice, who pepper each chapter page with non sequitur quotes from classical works. Iqbal, to her credit, shows the reader that she knows whereof she writes, and her references to the masters is not highfalutin and bears direct relevance to her story.
Iqbal captured my interest as soon as the prologue: I sat rereading the loveliest line:
“When I try to capture them in ink, the words slip away and the paper remains an empty canvas waiting for the right shades of colour to paint a tale.”
Thus before I even started the first chapter I was already impressed. The Bookkeeper’s Daughter is full of dialogue which makes for a rapid read. I sped through this book because I was as excited as Ray to find out where she would end up next. Iqbal even introduced an element of suspense, for at the start of her journey through time, James forbade her from interacting with the authors. If you have ever read any stories about time travel (or even nonfiction about quantum physics) you will know that interaction with characters in the past is a colossal no-no. What will happen when Ray defies James and has a chat with Jane Austen?
I was impressed with Iqbal’s work and I see her as a rising talent. All writers grow with their work and I am eager to see how she has matured by the end of book four. The Bookkeeper’s Daughter was a pleasure to read.
Although Iqbal credits her Aunt Jay for her help in editing, there was still much that was missed in the final manuscript. Followers of my blog and the various websites where I post book reviews know that I am always honest. No author escapes scrutiny from my editorial blue pencil. Perhaps by her fourth book Iqbal will have already sought the expertise of a proper editor, or at least used a line editor as most of what I will comment on could easily have been caught by a skilled pair of eyes. Self-published works seem to suffer worse than those put out by large publishing houses, but there is really no excuse for not having a third, and then even a fourth set of eyes to look the manuscript over. I do not centre my attention solely on Iqbal, as I list the errors I find in all the books I review, regardless who wrote them.
The Bookkeeper’s Daughter could have benefited from punctuation placement, as far too many sentences were run-ons. Such lengthy sentences resulted in a wordy pileup once the period was reached. I had to backtrack and read the sentence again slowly, parsing it with a semicolon or comma or dividing it in two. This happened often; why ruin the flow of a lovely story when punctuation is at your service? I am not talking about James Joyce or Jack Kerouac rapid stream-of-consciousness writing, where punctuation is deliberately eschewed. Just two examples where punctuation was necessary are:
“You show me things that I would never be able to see on my own I met Jane Austen!” (p. 180)
and then on the next page:
“Ray kept her eyes squeezed shut maybe it would be easier to say this without looking at him.” (p. 181)
Various errors with the dreaded apostrophe:
“It felt like something out of a Dickens’ novel.” (p. 13). No apostrophe is needed here at all.
“It wasn’t’t just about Christmas and snow…” (p. 25)
“…Eleanor had closed up the place, abandoning the memories it held, hired a nanny and moved to her parent’s grand estate in London.” (p. 27). I see this error even in works put out by large publishing houses. We are talking about both parents here, of course, so the word should be parents’.
“There aren’t any Mormon’s here…” (p. 54). A case of greengrocer’s apostrophe.
“It’s sleek silver exterior glittered in the soft light…” (p. 205). No! Any editor would have caught this.
Plus some errors with spelling:
“Patches of sunlight winked through the braches of sturdy oak trees…” (p. 63). Braches is a word in its own right. It’s the plural of brach, which means a hound bitch.
“…the knight errants and their creators.” (p. 71). The plural of knight-errant is knights-errant.
References to half-way and Halfway on adjacent lines. (p. 109)
“Another crack of thunder resounded followed by lighting…” (p. 123). Should be lightning.
“I just can’t seem to find the time and with the holidays they’re all these expectations and stuff…” (p. 140). Should be there’re.
“James titled her chin up…” (p. 141)