Title: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
Author: Darragh McKeon
Page count: 418 (US edition paperback, not counting the extra bits and pieces at the end)
Rating: 2/5 stars
Spoiler & trigger warnings: I tried my best to avoid any spoilers. Do be warned for mentions of blood, gore, and nuclear disasters. Also, this is not a particularly happy review.
Russia, 1986. On a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year-old prodigy plays his piano silently for fear of disturbing the neighbors. In a factory on the outskirts of the city, his aunt makes car parts, hiding her dissident past. In a nearby hospital, a surgeon immerses himself in his work, avoiding his failed marriage.
And in a village in Belarus, a teenage boy wakes to a sky of the deepest crimson. Outside, the ears of his neighbor’s cattle are dripping blood. Ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unimaginable has happened.Now their lives will change forever.
An end-of-empire novel charting the collapse of the Soviet Union, All That Is Solid Melts into Air is a gripping and epic love story by a major new talent.
I got this book mostly because I`m interested in nuclear technology and its disasters. On top of that, I recently found a new interest in the Cold War and the USSR`s role in it. This book sounded like a perfect combination of the two, so I bought it as a new year present to myself.
But to be honest? I was very disappointed by it.
Now, first let me talk about some of the good things of this book, because it wasn`t 100% bad.
First up, kudos to the writer for doing in-depth research. At the very least, everything he wrote was utterly believable and realistic. I have no idea if the eyes of the cows near Chernobyl really did bleed, but I`m willing to believe it. It`s also a sign of at least some good writing if I don`t raise an eyebrow in disbelief every other page or so.
Besides that, I think Darragh McKeon has a lot of potential. The book got loads better near the end in terms of writing (or maybe I just finally got used more to the style) and if he keeps writing there might be a book someday that I enjoy more.
Also the cover is really pretty and a big reason why I bought it. Because I`m shallow like that.
Still though, I did not really enjoy this book.
The writing style was kind of weird to me. It felt very choppy and distant with a lot of very short sentences. As such, I could not connect to any character. They all came across as if they were just kind of “meh” about everything that happened. I mean, I get that 1980`s Russia was not a particularly happy place to be, but from what I know of humans, they usually find things to enjoy and to laugh about anyway, no matter the situation. It felt like in this book everyone just blankly goes through everything and everything is miserable and grey and horrible and no one has fun ever.
Speaking of the characters: there was a lot of random POV switching in the middle of chapters, without any warning. A chapter would be in the POV of one of the main characters, they`d be talking to someone else, and the POV would suddenly switch over to that other person and then switch back to the main character without any warning. I had to go back and reread things a couple of times just to keep following what was going on.
Storywise, this is supposed to be an epic love story and an end-of-empire novel, with as focus the disaster in Chernobyl. At least, that’s what I gathered from the synopsis. But in all honesty, the story just kind of kept going as blankly as its characters, just to fizzle out at the end after there is finally a small amount of build-up. Very important things are just not explained or completely left out to begin with, there are random jumps in time, skipping over integral parts in the timeline.
All in all, this was a very unremarkable and forgettable story.
So do I recommend this book to anyone?
Nope. I don`t like NOT recommending something and writing a review like this doesn`t give me much joy, but I want to be honest here and say I do not recommend this book, not to anyone.
Of course, don`t let me stop you from reading it if you want to. My opinion does not have to be your opinion. This book has good ratings on Goodreads and lots of people seem to enjoy it plenty. I was just not one of them.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know down in the comments!
Take care 🙂
(Currently reading: Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley)