A Critical Review of Safe Haven, by Nicholas Sparks
With the release of the film version on February 14th, 2013, there has been a lot of hype and talk about Nicholas Sparks' novel Safe Haven. Fans of Sparks' movies and books are excited for this latest movie, and there has been a lot of chatter on Tumblr about people's appreciation for the book and their expectations for the movie.
The story centers around a woman named Katie, who moves to Southport, North Carolina, in order to escape her abusive husband and to seek sanctuary. In Southport, she meets a woman named Jo, and a man named Alex, who runs the general store. Over time she gets to know Alex and his children while still trying to hide from her past. But it's only a matter of time before her past catches up with her.
This is my critical review of Safe Haven. If you loved the novel, I want to warn you that I'm about to shred it and point out everything that Nicholas Sparks did wrong in this novel. Please be aware that I am a critical book reviewer and that I do not give every book a five star rating in order to make the author feel good. I hope that one day Nicholas Sparks reads this review and takes what I've said to heart, because there are important improvements that could make his writing brilliant.
This review does not contain spoilers.
A Brief Summary of the Novel
Katie is a young woman who has recently moved to Southport, North Carolina in order to escape the past that she left behind her. She keeps to herself apart from the work that she does waiting tables at Ivan's restaurant, and the only times she is seen apart from that is when she goes to visit the general store in town, which is owned by a grey-haired widower who was left to raise his two children on his own.
Until a young woman moves into other cottage at the end of the road where Katie lives, she hadn't really noticed Alex at all, other than to exchange her money for his goods when she does her shopping. Her new friend, Jo, encourages her to get to know Alex, and romance blossoms from that point forward.
But nothing can possibly be that easy, and Katie's past comes back to haunt her, hunting her down with a Glock. Katie has choices to make. Will she stay in Southport, or escape before it's too late?
My initial response to this book was highly negative. It was the first Nicholas Sparks novel that I have read and I was sorely disappointed it. The first 40% of the book (I'm reading on my Kindle) dragged interminably. I felt as though the book was never going to reach any kind of a conclusion and I was wondering when the story would start. This portion of the book does nothing more than introduce the characters before finally moving on to the action in the second 60% of the book.
Mr. Sparks, it's a rare author who can pull this off. You're not one of them.
Early on I had the sense that Nicholas Sparks must be incredibly misogynistic, considering that I could see very little difference between the characters of Katie and Jo. Indeed, Katie was a very Mary Sue type of character. She came across as flat, unfeeling and unthinking in the first portion of the book, and in the second half, she was simply unrealistic coming from the perspective of her past history.
If I had to sum up Safe Haven in a single word, that word would be boring.
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What's Wrong with Nicholas Sparks' Safe Haven
I've given this a lot of thought, and ordinarily I don't bother to do critical reviews of books that I've read. I assume that even minor authors probably aren't going to get a chance to read my little reviews floating around the Internet (unless my blog becomes big enough!) and I've been very hesitant to actually advice published authors. After all, what am I but a small time blogger with no significant writing experience?
This time, however, I find myself hoping that Mr. Sparks does read my review of his book, and takes to heart the things that I have to say about it. This is the first novel of his that I've read and while I will read my copy of Dear John and will probably read The Notebook at some point in the future as well, I'm not hopeful of being entertained by them.
The following are my criticisms:
- The character development in the novel is very weak. I never felt like I got to know Katie or Alex as people; they could have been any male and any female thrown together by circumstances. She seemed to be nothing more than a pretty new face in town, and Alex was attracted to her. I'm quite certain that this was not what Sparks was attempting to develop, and I was disappointed. There was a lot of potential for both of these characters to really come up off the page and develop their own story, but that opportunity was missed by Mr. Sparks. It really, really bothered me that Katie and Jo were so like one another. They had no definition at all, but were essentially the same character written twice. Are all of his books like this?
- The first half of the novel barely moves. Alright, so it's 40%, but that little 10% is hardly relevant. The entire first half of the book is taken up with what I believe is meant to be some kind of character development, but since the characters are never fully developed, it's just gratuitous text. Indeed, the entire first half of this book could have been removed and the essence of the novel would have been the same. It is mostly due to this problem that I reach my third conclusion:
- The romance develops too quickly. While it embarrasses me to admit that I read regular romance novels, I have to say that I am aware of the way that they are structured and the way that they work. The romance usually develops very slowly, reaching its summit toward the end of the novel. However, with Safe Haven I felt as though Sparks took the couple from hardly knowing one another and being very cautious with one another to being in love and exchanging "I love yous" within just a few pages. This was very disconcerting, unrealistic, and a bit jarring. Fans are calling the book "highly realistic" but I have to disagree.
- The commentary is very repetitive. Some people hate this, others don't find it to be too much of a problem. I think that in some ways Sparks did go overboard with his development of Kevin and that while the repetition works to some extent to explain and examine the inner workings of the man's mind, he should have spent some of the time that he spent on Kevin working on Alex or on Katie. We surely know Kevin better than we do either of the protagonists in the story, and while there is a segment of the reading population that very much prefers to root for the "bad guy" in the story, this was a bit overdrawn and irresponsible on the part of the author; give me a couple to love, not just a bad guy to hate!
- The "surprise ending" is a total fail. I had to ask around to find out if this is the way that Sparks typically ends his novels, since very often authors use a similar theme throughout their novels. In most cases this is a sense of mystery that authors use to give their novels more of a story than simply being a "boy meets girl" type of romantic comedy. I discovered, however, that the "surprise ending" isn't something typically Sparks, and I don't feel that he pulled it off at all.
- The lack of closure at the end of the novel left me feeling unfulfilled. Very often I get to the end of a book and it feels like the author just got tired of writing. That's the effect that I got from Safe Haven. It felt as though Sparks just didn't want to write on the novel any more and therefore decided to end it prematurely. I want to see a book that has a proper ending, giving me some sense of closure and fulfillment. This book didn't provide me with that, nor did it leave me with a cliffhanger to let me know that more was coming, either in the form of a sequel or something being added to the movie.
In short, the book bored me to tears. I wanted to get more out of it. I wanted to love Sparks the way that everybody else does. And I simply didn't. I don't know what all the rage is about. Feel free to use the comments to clue me in as to what I'm missing.
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Safe Haven Movie Trailer
Will I See the Movie?
This is a question that I often get asked when I read a book that has a movie that has been released or which is going to be released soon. It's often a hard question to answer because so often bad movies ruin good books, and I hate that. But good movies can also improve bad books, and I'm actually rather torn on the issue of whether or not to see the movie.
Admittedly, the trailer looks amazing.
And maybe the actors can do something with the characters that the author didn't do with this story; maybe they can bring to life Katie and Alex and Jo and Kevin and the children. It's very possible that there's something that can be added to this story on the screen that wasn't there in print. We'll have to see.
I'm undecided as of yet, but if you're interested, you can watch the trailer at the right and vote in the poll as well!
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