Author Review: Elin Hilderbrand

The island of Nantucket is the primary setting for most of Hilderbrand’s novels.

The Rumor is the book that got me hooked on Elin Hilderbrand’s beach reads. I like the theme of an author in search of a plot. An author who is desperate enough to meet her deadline that she cribs happenings from her best friend’s life. 

Hilderbrand’s style seduced me into reading the majority of her books. So did her major settings, Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, and St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many of her characters are obnoxiously wealthy, but they’re troubled, which makes them more relatable. However, I’m giving her a mixed review as a writer. I eagerly awaited the delivery of Troubles in Paradise, the book I finished yesterday; the third volume in her Paradise series. Despite that and the fact that I have at least half a dozen more of her books to read, I ordered a book by a different author when I’d closed the cover of Troubles after reading the last page. I’ll probably read the last six of her books, but only when I can get to the library to borrow them.

Old house on Nantucket. The island was once the center of the whaling industry. The home of seafarers. Now it’s a playground for the wealthy, like many of the characters in Elin’s novels.

What I like about Hilderbrand’s writing is that it has energy. Usually. I like her vivid details in order to visualize the characters, Nantucket’s charming old houses, and landscapes, and St. John’s beaches where the sand is like powdered sugar. However, she can really, really go overboard with details. In Troubles in Paradise she has her characters go out for a celebratory breakfast. I do not need to know who was in the restaurant, what drinks they all ordered, and what they ate.

I’m mostly charmed by Hilderbrand’s similes and metaphors. I like the setting sun that resembles a pink hibiscus. One character has hair like a Chinese silk weaver. A delightful, original, and memorable simile. However, yet another character has eyes the color of weak tea. Also memorable, but hardly sexy, which the guy is supposed to be. 

The backstory is part of character development. I enjoy a certain amount of it. Knowing how characters got to be who they are and what in their background motivates them makes them easier to like and identify with. Yet again, Hilderbrand can go overboard. I don’t need to know how a midwife, who shows up only long enough to deliver a baby, got to know the child’s step-grandfather-to-be. 

Beware, Hilderbrand’s novels are told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters. When you have six to eight major characters, detailed background information can get very tedious. Too often the reader gets treated to the backstories of even minor characters in walk-on roles. In addition to the nurse/midwife in Troubles, Hilderbrand drags in a character from the Winter Street series and we get to know about her husband, her retirement from TV news broadcasting, and her un-retirement, so she can show up on St. John to report on a hurricane. It and the havoc it wreaks is also superfluous. We can see that one the news. The only reason I can think of for including the reporter is to promote this four-book series.

Not St. John, just a tropical beach with sand like powdered sugar.

In my least favorite of Hilderbrand’s books, she includes the investigation of mysterious deaths by drowning. The investigations are perfunctory. The solutions lame, unworthy of the time it takes to read them. She should leave mystery solving to mystery writers. In The Castaways, the plot revolves around the friendship of four couples, one of whom is dead. The characters who are not dead are so repugnant, I figured the dead couple must have deliberately drowned themselves in order to get away from these people. In The Perfect Couple, the bride-to-be is such a wimpy mama’s and daddy’s girl that it’s hard to imagine why her boyfriend ever proposed.

All authors have their tropes. Hilderbrand’s are detailed descriptions of lavish meals. Islands. Ginger-haired men. Adultery. Cancer. Hedgefund managers. Real estate brokers. Jeeps. Controlling mothers. One dead mother has left behind a notebook in which she has planned out her daughter’s entire wedding in minute detail, down to the cocktail napkins. Another of her tropes is name dropping. Lots and lots of name dropping. It makes me wonder if the author is getting paid for product placement. St. John seems to have more eateries and bars than palm trees.

There’s not as much picnicking on the beach as you might expect, but plenty of sipping.

Speaking of names…one of Hilderbrand’s habits that annoys me most is giving her characters ridiculous names Calgary, Swan (could be worse) Altar. Bluto. And many, many more.

Just in case the reader misses her symbolism and message, Hilderbrand hammers them home. There’s no doubt as to where the relationship is going when the character accidentally drops her cellphone into the toilet as she’s about to retrieve a message from her boyfriend.

At their best, Hilderbrand’s novels are immersive escapism. I like her writing well-enough that I’ve tried to emulate her style in my own writing while avoiding her flaws.

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