Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Just skimmed

I've just skimmed my fourth book since 2011 began. This one had a great premise: Chinese student comes to London to learn English and falls in love with an Englishman. I wanted this book to be a multi-layered insight into two cultures. I wanted the protagonist to rediscover herself as she became better in English (a reason I delighted in teaching ESL). I wanted the love to be real and true. I wanted the dictionary format to be a clever device rather than a gimmick. But it just didn't work.

The protagonist's voice didn't change in her year of language immersion; it remained simplistic and banal, other than a few pithy observations far beyond her presumed language ability. The 'love' between an obsessive twentysomething fresh outta China and a fortysomething bisexual man - come on, really? It was insulting and seemed forced. The protagonist's interpretation of London was cliche, not a uniquely Chinese perspective. And the random (token?) 'solo' European inter-railing 'adventure' was ridiculous - she just happened to immediately meet men in every port and just happened to have unnecessary non-sexual and sexual experiences with them. I knew how this was going to end by page 25. Of course they split up. Of course she goes back home. Of course she continues to obsess and the man moves on. And I'm left wondering what in the world this book was about, other than two selfish and unlikeable people who spend some time together and discover they're better apart.

Of course, as a writer, I can learn from this, but as a reader, how in the world did a novel like this get nominated for the Orange Prize in 2007 (alongside The Inheritance of Loss and Digging to America)? What is it about this book that received such accolades? Is it me?

It might be me. I have yet to make it past the first 10 pages of A Confederacy of Dunces - which some of my favorite people have firmly in their top 10 - and can't figure out what people like about Ian McEwan's writing style. What books have disappointed you?


Anonymous said...

I see your Ian McEwan, and I raise him a Margaret Atwood.

I dearly love her books, but also find them consistently frustrating. This is difficult to explain without having a pile of recently re-read Atwoods to hand, but I guess I'm waiting for the Atwood novel which is firing on all engines. She promises so much, but can't deliver to her high standards all the time on every front.

Another way of putting this is that I simply can't decide which is my favourite, and know that given an one novel, she will have done something better elsewhere.

Pressed, I would say the best would be The Blind Assassin, but then I have to re-read, Alias Grace.

Kristin said...

With Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale blew me away and I've never been as moved by anything else she's written - thus am always pleased but slightly disappointed. I do love her, though, and find her personality fascinating - which probably taints my impression of her words.