Book Review: The Great Believers

Author: Rebecca Makkai
Published: June 19, 2018
Genre: LGBTQ Fiction
FLW Rating: 4/5
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The Great Believers has all the makings of an extremely compelling work of fiction – centered on the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, a missing person, a cult, a trip to Paris, love, betrayal– the list goes on. As soon as I read the description, I knew I needed to read it, and as far as the plot goes, it did not dissapoint! It was readable and interesting, andI looked forward to every spare moment when I could pick it up again. What it missed for me was the strong emotional connection to the characters, that connection that would leave me punched in the gut at the end of this book. With all the components listed above, I expected this book to be hard hitting, and while it was very entertaining and enjoyable, I didn’t feel as much raw emotion as I had been expecting.

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The Great Believers is told across two timeframes and two continents – one in 1980s Chicago, and the other in Paris 2015. The story opens in the 80s, at the memorial service for Fiona’s brother, Nico. He was the first in his circle of friends to pass away from AIDS and as can be expected, his death brings a lot of grief and also fear to his close friends. The story follows Yale, one of Nico’s close friends, as he continues with his job and his relationship through this tough time. When the story skips ahead to 2015, Fiona is flying to France to begin the search for her daughter, Claire, who she lost touch with when Claire joined a cult several years prior.

What I loved in this book was the unexpected art history plot line. Yale works for a university art gallery that is trying to gain prestige through donations of incredible pieces, and through that role, he gets himself in to a few compromising situations. I used to love the tv show White Collar, and this felt similar, although less criminal. But there were deals to be made, people to be deceived (or at least left in the dark) and this plotline really propelled the book along!

What didn’t totally work for me was the character development. Quite frankly, I never felt the emotional roller coaster with any of the characters, since I had a hard time feeling a strong connection to any of them. To me, the issue was that even after all I went through with these characters, I didn’t feel like I had gotten to know them. I had more gotten to know their fears and insecurities without really knowing them.

I would recommend this book to someone who has an interest in the AIDS crisis in Chicago, or just looking for an entertaining and compelling work of fiction! I don’t anticipate the characters will stay with me for a long time, but I enjoyed reading this book and will definitely read another book by Makkai in the future!

[Thank you to Viking Books for supplying me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.]

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