The Story: Clea Raymond was born to parents of privilege but has become an accomplished photojournalist in her own right. Yet her world gets turned around when her father is reportedly kidnapped and the only clues she can follow are of a total stranger in a series of seemingly unrelated photographs. With no one else to turn to for help, Clea and her friends jet set across the globe to uncover the truth, both about Clea’s father and Clea herself.
First up – I’m not, nor will I ever be, a Hilary Duff fan. I was too old to get into her Disney show when it first aired, so, to be fair, I never had to chance to dig into her career. But with her name on the cover here, I was interested to see what a former Disney pop princess could bring to the bookshelf. Plus I got it half-price at a bookstore liquidation sale, so…
I honestly was expecting a train wreck but what I got was a relatively smooth journey though the accommodations left something to be desired. The plot itself wasn’t bad and at least Duff and/or her editor knew when to end a chapter on a high note. Also, the novel moves from being a quasi-mystery tale to a generic love story that’s easy to take. I do agree with Clea when it comes to qualities she’s looking for in a potential soul mate: “The right guy for me is someone who lives his passions, not someone on a scavenger hunt to find them.”
You do have to feel for Clea when her father goes missing and the only reminder she has of him is her iris charm. The iris becomes a recurring image throughout the book, something we writers call motif. Symbolically, irises represent good luck, hope, and faith, which certainly tie in here. Clea has faith her father is alive and hopes to discover the truth about both his disappearance and the appearance of a strange man in her photographs. The inclusion of this symbolism does tie the story together though it did feel a little added on, as if the writer was following a “recipe” for novel writing and decided to include the “ingredient” of a central symbolic device.
I finished Elixir in a day because the pace made it easy to get through. The story was laid out nicely and made me want to know what would happen next. Likewise, the concept of the Elixir of Life being able to cause someone to live multiple “lives” was intriguing. (This might align itself too close to reincarnation for some readers, but based on my interpretation the book isn’t about that.) In alchemy, the Elixir of Life (derived from the philosopher’s stone) can turn lead into gold, heal wounds, and grant eternal life. In a more metaphysical/symbolic sense, it has the power to turn the corrupted, worthless soul into something valuable. But Elixir gives its Elixir more of a scientific edge than a fantasy one, which is a different spin I liked.
Writing-wise, Elixir employs a bare-bones narrative that tells more than it shows. That’s not necessarily bad but the dialogue is cringe-worthy at times. The vocabulary level and writing style are also basic and insipid. Granted, it keeps the pace quick but there is nothing to grasp on to and savor. Consider this example of Clea’s narration (she serves as the narrator throughout the entire novel): I was at the counter, watching the cook flip several burgers and a large apple pie on the grill. The door squeaked open, and though I didn’t even raise my eyes, I knew it was him. I felt the air change when he entered, the force of him as he strode across the diner, and the heat of his body mere inches from mine as we sat. Electricity leaped between us, and his eyes burned into me, but I still wouldn’t turn to face him.
Yeah, I won’t call it this the worst bit of prose I’ve ever read but it comes really close (as in my top five). Technically there are no hiccups here but it’s bland as if I’ve read a dozen other stories written just like this. There’s no snap, bite, or rhythm to the writing; it simply exists on the page and nothing more. And I’m not even going to show you some of the cheesy dialogue. I would be cringing so much, I couldn’t type.
Overall, Elixir falls into the “okay” category for me: not great, not even good, but not that bad. It’s mediocrity that, to be fair, is easy to take and doesn’t insult your intelligence. But in the end, I was hunting for something better.
Language – Some PG-level profanities with a few PG-13-level profanities though these are less pervasive than the minor swear words.
Violence – While there are tense moments where several characters, including Clea, are in danger, there is no graphic violence or torture. Similarly, there is the implication that Clea’s father has been kidnapped but there are no flashbacks of the event.
Sexual Material – Clea has a solitary moment of indiscretion in a car with a male character. While the the scene is far from explicit, the fact Duff (or someone else) decided to include it in a book that might find its way into the hands of younger readers is troublesome. This is the only sexual scene in the book and Elixir actually would have been clean without it.
The writing was a chore to get through because the prose doesn’t challenge the mind. Likewise, I really can’t see where Duff (or whoever actually wrote or helped write this) can take this without delving into repeated plot cycles. So if you’re looking for a quick read that will hold your interest for a day, Elixir is a decent choice. Duff (or her ghost writer) can at least tell a good story that’s easy to comprehend but is ultimately forgettable.