Themes Explored: time travel, family, love, relationships, romance, war, death, mystery, skepticism, loss, memory, longing, depression, greed, temporal paradox, attraction, meaning of life, joy
Synopsis: When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire pursue a pretty but bookish young banker? The answer is beyond imagining. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: Overseas is Beatriz Williams’ first novel and it shows. While the premise of the novel is intriguing, Williams tries a little too hard. And this resulted in a significant portion of the book feeling forced and unnatural. I like the way the story moves back and forth between the present and Julian’s past, which is impressive since I normally dislike split narratives. But Williams does a credible job weaving the two time periods together. Of course, this is mainly a romance novel with a fantastical twist. As with most debut romantic novels, the romance part of the story is over-the-top and rather unbelievable. Kate and Julian are basically a time-traveling version of Romeo and Juliette. There love is so strong that Kate feels compelled to travel a hundred years in the past to rescue Julian from a certain death. While this is certainly an appealing concept, the writing is not quite sophisticated enough to sell the concept. The result is about 350 pages of mush worthy of a Hallmark movie followed by a hundred pages of great storytelling. If the entire book was written as strongly as the last hundred pages, then Overseas would have been a significantly better novel.
One major problem with this novel is the characterization of the two protagonists. Kate is a mousy, super-serious, naïve, and lovelorn young woman. Julian is a sophisticated, (significantly) older, and incredibly handsome hero. Williams constantly reminds the reader that Julian is essentially the British reincarnation of Adonis. After the third time it becomes faintly ridiculous. We get it, Julian is super attractive and Kate has a great personality. What is it with all this super attractive men falling for depressed and mopey young women? If this sounds a lot like Edward and Bella’s relationship from Twilight, it is because the premise is practically identical. The only difference is Julian is not a vampire and Kate graduated high school. One of the reasons the romance is hard to swallow is the dreadful dialogue. Novels are only as strong as the dialogue and most of it is bad in Overseas. New love is incredibly cheesy, the overabundance of emotions brings out the sappiness in us all. However, there is a difference between experiencing it and reading the cringe worthy lines in a book. The dialogue between Kate and Julian is so over-the-top that it felt unrealistic. I cannot imagine anyone saying a majority of the lines uttered by this love sick couple.
Characterization wise, the development seems a little off. Kate is supposed to be a lonely and relatively shy professional woman. Williams attempts to show that Kate is unpolished and unsure of herself. However, this manifests in Kate constantly apologizing for everything, never swearing, constantly deprecating herself, and showing no passion. Then Kate suddenly feels sexually alive when around Julian and starts spewing desires worthy of the most forward and passionate firebrand. This is rather a discombobulating change and kills the character development. I was left wondering which version was the true Kate. It is hard to believe a shy and retiring character would suddenly become so outgoing. I also found it hard to believe that Kate would be so forward during the beginning of her relationship with Julian. Not that it cannot happen, but Williams struggled to make the personality change feel genuine. Julian is, naturally, the epitome of a perfect gentleman. He is the personification of a Lord Byron poetry collection and an etiquette manual. In other words, he is too perfect to believe. I do not mind a flawless hero but I was frustrated that the other male characters were depicted in a negative light. It felt that Williams made all the secondary characters thoroughly despicable in order to make the protagonists shine. The obvious contrast felt heavy handed and unrealistic.
Now there are some elements to Overseas that I genuinely enjoyed. Williams puts a creative spin on time travel and I am glad she decided against the over-used ley lines trope. She obviously researched the World War I time period and this comes across in her excellent descriptions. Her writing talent shines the most when describing landscapes and people. I never felt bored or frustrated during these sequences. And the last hundred pages of the book are by far the best part of the novel. It is almost like reading a completely different narrative. I think Williams found her confidence when wrapping up the story and resolving all the subplots. The dialogue seemed more realistic and the characters felt like real people. If the entire novel was written in the style of the last fourth, then the narrative would have been excellent. Williams has since published three more novels and her writing has drastically improved. I think she has some genuine writing talent and have enjoyed her other published works. But Overseas is obviously a debut novel and it took me a lot of willpower to finish. I ended up finishing it because I read the last page first and had to read the entire book to understand the ending.
Overseas, Putnam Adult, 2012, ISBN 9780399157646