Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Arsonist – Sue Miller

Contemporary Fiction 2*'s
Contemporary Fiction

Frankie Rowley has been working in Africa most of her adult life when she returns to Pomeroy, New England, now her parents retirement home, but for years their summer home. Her return to the small town coincides with the start of a spate of arson attacks. Houses are burnt down with the divide between the all-year-round residents and the summer residents becoming wider but with both sides demanding action. Bud the newspaper reporter, relocated from reporting political news, has a big story to tell but is in danger of upsetting the different factions. Meanwhile American politics are focussed on Monica Lewinsky.

This is a book dense with the details as Frankie examines her life in Africa, the transience that she has led her life and whether now is the time to change her way of life. Meanwhile she is reconnecting with her mother, Sylvia, and concerned about her father, Alfie, who is rapidly slipping into dementia. This is the second book I’ve read this year that describes dementia to my mind Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey describes this condition more accurately.

This book was a bit of a non-event, the writing is good, but almost diffident around the key questions it raises, not least how Frankie resolves her inner-conflict about where she belongs in the world or even who and why the fires were set. Although not a particularly long book, this took me an age to finish, not least to the circular nature of the writing where the same themes and questions were revisited with little added to make this device satisfactory.

I have really enjoyed some of Sue Miller’s previous novels but this one failed to give much in the way of pleasure or conclusion. The tension built between the full-time residents and the vacationers were not followed through or even explored in any meaningful way, whilst Sylvia’s difficult relationship with her eldest daughter, Frankie, not given the background required for the reader to fully understand. These omissions appear more conspicuous  when compared to  the intricate details given of houses, trips to various parts of town and the unaccountable fear that Frankie had in reporting a suspicious car on the night of the first fire. However the small-town mentality of the police felt if not realistic, then only a slight exaggeration of how I can imagine they would act towards the crime, as their moment in the spotlight shines brightly on a stage outside the confines of their small town.

I received a copy of this book from Amazon Vine in return for this honest review.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

11 thoughts on “The Arsonist – Sue Miller

  1. Cleo – Thanks, as ever, for your candor. I’ve read other reviews of this, some more positive and…some not. With such interesting and important questions as identity and place in the world, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t feel they were addressed with enough ‘punch,’ for lack of a better word. Still, it is an interesting premise. Hmmmm…..perhaps I’ll put this on my ‘maybe sometime’ list.


    1. Thank you Margot. I so wanted to enjoy this book and at first thought that it was just the change in pace from the books I’d read previously that was the stumbling book; Sue Miller’s books are never fast-paced. It is a long time since it has taken me quite so long to read a book and although the writing was engaging I just found that too much was left unrevealed and yet at times we got a surfeit of information. It is an interesting premise and I can see some merits but it wasn’t one for me.


  2. I started this book twice–one as a copy from the library, then again as an audiobook–and I just couldn’t get engaged in it. I was disappointed, as I’ve enjoyed several of Sue Miller’s previous books, but this one just wasn’t to my taste. It’s off of my TBR list. Luckily, there are plenty of other books to take it’s place!


  3. I am sorry you didn’t enjoy it more. I actually loved it, but I did find it nebulous, with many unanswered questions. Sometimes that feeling seems appropriate to a story. But there were definitely numerous reactions to this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    1. I read your review for this one and I’m really pleased you loved it. This is the problem for authors because what works for some of us, doesn’t for others. I think could this is the type of book to expect unanswered questions, but for me the balance was off when compared to a surfeit of detail in other places.
      Isn’t it lucky we are all different?


  4. I thought that the author left this novel unfinished. There were many quite excellent moments–noticeable because they were interspersed with long expositions lacking dialogue that I found quite boring. This is odd, but there is a dedication to someone who died in November 2013; maybe she didn’t have her heart to attend to the writing.


Leave a Reply, I love hearing what you have to say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.