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Review by Suze
Tooly is running a bookshop in Wales. It isn't profitable, but she's enjoying her job. It's also strangely comfortable to live in a small village where nothing happens. She used to travel and has lived in many different countries. Nothing about her childhood was normal and the same could be said about her twenties. Now that she's a bit older it's time to settle down, but can Tooly truly do that? Because she has to visit someone from her past everything is coming to the surface again and Tooly is finally able to look at it with a more open and less colored view. Will that mean she can finally uncover some truths? To do that she also has to look deep within herself, but is she capable of doing that?
While staying with a friend Tooly is trying to make sense of her past. She has made many decisions based on something that might not have been the truth after all. I felt bad for her, but because she's so emotionally detached it's sometimes hard to sympathize with what happened to her. Some of Tooly's issues are of her own making, but she's been scarred and has lead a turbulent life from the start. I could picture the little girl with all of her problems and kept wishing she would be all right. It isn't clear who's who in Tooly's past which made me curious to keep reading. I wanted to unravel the truth as much as Tooly and maybe even more.
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is a beautiful story and the writing is magnificent. Books were a constant in Tooly's life and I love how dependable they are for her. It took me a while to finish this book as it isn't an easy read. I read just a little bit each time I picked it up as that was the way I enjoyed it the most. There was so much information and there were so many situations and people I tried to make sense of that I needed time to process it all. I enjoyed the story very much. I was intrigued, had a lot of questions and also some theories. Sometimes I wanted to hug Tooly and other times I wanted to shake her. Tooly is a flawed heroine. She makes mistakes and I'm not sure if I can ever really forgive her. For me that was the biggest strength of this book. Not every main character has to be someone you love. Tooly is someone who certainly intrigued me, but I didn't really like her.
There are many contradictions in this story. The first one was within Tooly, the second within the people she grew up with and there are many more. Then there are many contrasts and opposites as well. A big city in Thailand versus a small village in Wales, a dependable father versus a frivolous mother, truth versus lies, Knowledge from books versus knowledge acquired in school, doing what you want versus doing what's right, and so on. I also liked the hidden clues in the story. All of this together made The Rise and Fall of Great Powers a highly enjoyable read for me. I recommend it to anyone who likes an intellectual challenge.