Thursday, June 24, 2010
The Hardest Book Review I've Ever Written
Every once and awhile a book comes along that seriously rattles my cage and messes with my head. This is one of those books. I was warned that this book was light years away from "Life of Pi". I was told that it was an allegory about the holocaust. I thought I was prepared. I was not.
I had to think about this book for a long time before I was willing to put out a review for it. It helped that I was able to meet Martel and talk with him about the book, but I still needed more time to process the book. I've decided that it really is a brilliant book, unique and powerful. Many will hate it, and I can understand that, but I don't think it's fair. It's good that books can take us by the intellectual shoulders sometimes and shake us and force us to see the world in a different way for at least a brief bit of time. That's what this book does, and does well.
The Library of Congress cataloging includes 1. Authors--Fiction. 2.
Taxidermists--Fiction. 3. Animals--Fiction. That's all true. But the one you have to look out for is the final one mentioned--4. Psychological fiction. That is the danger, the power, and the marvel of this book. The majority of the book--90% roughly--is a slow yet fascinating intellectual puzzle that offers disjointed pieces that your brain slowly moves around, trying to figure out what the final picture will be. You'll notice, off and on, similarities to the work of Beckett and Camus, the author even admits to naming the titled two
characters after those in Dante's Inferno. Hints are given teasingly of inner secrets that are far removed from the intellectual mind game that makes up the bulk of this book, told rather impersonally and at best two dimensionally. I frankly could not put the thing down--I was enjoying the puzzle, the literary and psychological maze that is this book.
And then I reached the final 30ish pages, when just enough of the final pieces were given to me to turn my knuckles white with horror. The black and white pages became red, the quiet tone became an endless shriek not unlike the howler monkey's, passively described earlier in the book but deafening in the brutality of the final scenes. Insanity and brutality replace intellectualism. The picture is never made quite complete, despite it's graphic telling--mysteries still exist. Pieces are literally destroyed in the fire of the final, devastating moments. There are not answers to every question. But, as a epilogue, there are questions, asked in the same, intellectually removed, distant voice that the majority of the story is told in that are far more devastating than even the cataclysmic final scene. As you read them, somewhere in the distance, a howler monkey begins to scream.
I feel like this book was an intellectual and emotional challenge that will echo in me for a very long time. I want to talk about it--I want to prepare people for it so they can get past the shock and appreciate the brilliance. I don't know how to do that, really, more than with these words here, now. I hope they make a difference.