Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Book Review Without a Title

I just finished a book that was very strangely composed.

The first two-thirds consisted of a group of men telling another man what they knew--or had been told by others not present--of the puzzling events of a particular day. Yes, two-thirds of the book take place on one evening, although the events they relate on that evening go back much farther than that.

The next part of the book skips around, with no notice, between the book's present and the past from the points of view of characters who weren't present at the first part's conference.

The last few chapters were only one scene long, while the chapter headings (In which so-and-so does such-and-such and this-and-that happens) have grown so long and detailed that they're longer and more informative than the snapshot or snatch of dialog of which the "chapter" consists.

Interesting, no? Well, no. It won the Booker Prize, and I'll never forget it, but I would never recommend it.

If one of the aims of a writer is to write a book which enters into a relationship with the reader, this book succeeds brilliantly. Unfortunately, it's a dysfunctional relationship, and, ultimately, a broken one.

During the first part of the book, I felt enfolded, drawn into the world described, that of gold-rush New Zealand. I learned things I never knew about the time and the setting, felt I had an insight into the psychologies of the characters, and was deeply invested in finding out the answers to the puzzles.

The second part of the book, in which the puzzles are supposedly answered, broke that spell with its more disjointed time hops and character switches, its competing explanations, its iffy timelines, and a big glob of magic realism that pops in like a gold tooth in a sausage.

That rapid-fire final section pushes you right outside of the story and only gives you glimpses of it, as if you're outside peeping through a keyhole.

Then there's that post-reading section that all powerful books have, in which you mull over what you've read. In the case of this book, there's a lot of, "Wait a minute.... That doesn't make any sense." After two or three episodes of, "But, why would she do THAT? That's just stupid," I stopped thinking about it. I believe the author did this on purpose, as a meta-message about what we can know or fail to know about situations and people. As if the reader hadn't been slapped upside the head with that often enough in real life, right?

There are some relationships you're just well out of. I could reread the book to see if things fell more neatly in place the second time through, but once bitten twice shy. No way am I going to give a toxic relationship a second go at me. Not the same damn one, anyway.

You'll notice I haven't named the book. The odds of the author of that book reading this post are so slim, I can probably safely say that if you're reading this, the book IS NOT YOURS. If you know me personally, the book is DEFINITELY not yours. You don't play unpleasant games with your readers.

I'm not going to name the book or the author, because I don't want to recommend the book even by warning against it. I know how that goes with human relationships. No, if you met Frankenstein's Monster, he would NOT be your bestie, unless you're an old blind violinist.

This curmudgeonly book review has been brought to you by

Marian Allen, Author Lady
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