Has anyone ever had the following experience? A friend or acquaintance tells you “oh my gosh, you totally remind me of So-and-So (some non-mutual friend or acquiantance that you have never met).” And you are fine with that, whatever. That is, until until you actually meet So-and-So, and realize “oh my gosh, So-and-So is a horrible, horrible person,” whereupon you become totally, totally offended by the comparison (even though, at least on some level, you can kind of see it too).
I just had the literary equivalent of this experience. With this book.
Allow me to explain.
A couple of months ago, this book came to me, highly recommended, from my favorite and most-trusted book recommender. He told me three things: (1) that I would love the book (which I did); (2) that it would become a new favorite (which it has); and (3) that the main character reminded him of me (Son of a…).
If you haven’t read the book, this might not mean much to you (another thing he told me was that the book was something I needed to experience untainted, without any preconceived notions; that I needed to stop reading what anyone else was writing about it, stop listening to what anyone else was saying about it, and just go read it. This was perhaps the best piece of advice he gave me, and I pass it along to you: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THIS BOOK YET, STOP READING THIS POST RIGHT NOW, AND GO READ IT! DON’T COME BACK UNTIL YOU’RE DONE. IF YOU ARE STILL INTERESTED WHEN YOU ARE DONE (WHICH SHOULDN’T TAKE LONG; YOU WILL FIND IT VERY, VERY HARD TO PUT DOWN), THIS POST WILL STILL BE HERE, RIGHT WHERE YOU LEFT IT.
I’M SERIOUS; STOP READING!!!
Still there? Oh well…
Okay. Here’s the thing. The main character and narrator of the book, the person I reminded my friend of, the person I was supposed to identify with…
Is one of the most despicable characters in all of literature.
I won’t go into detail: if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t read it, well, I told you to stop reading a long time ago. I don’t feel sorry for you.
But here’s the thing: I did identify with the character. I’m not sure why. On paper I don’t have anything in common with him. I’m not suicidal or chronically depressed. I’m not an orphan. I am in a decidedly different line of work. And yet still there was something.
In short, I saw the resemblance, so I wasn’t offended. I was, and am, still a little bit disturbed by it. Can’t quite put my thumb on specifics. But as is so often the case, my friend was right.
Lest there be any confusion, any discomfort or personal issues aside, I did love the book. It is ambitious and intelligent. I understand it took him seven years to write it, and it shows. In a good way. It takes some serious literary juevos to try to touch Dante’s masterpiece. But he does it with style and a feeling of authenticity.
I will say, at times, it bordered on having almost too much history and attention to detail. For me. But then, I am a feelings person, not a history person.
That being said, and I can’t believe I am admitting to this, but at times, for me, it almost seemed to have too much romance. Not in the main story, but (and of course everyone is free to disagree with me), for me, the love stories within the story got to be a bit much.
One thing it very much did not have too much of for me was Marianne and her awesome, twisted, tattooed, damaged, crazy sexiness. Oh…NOW I get it…
The book is an experience. And it’s amazing. If you love romance and crazy and Dante and Italy/Germany/Old European charm, then you will like this. It’s gritty and raw sometimes. It’s dark and depraved a lot of the time. But hang in there. Everything has a purpose.
Kind of all over the place here. For a more thorough and thoughtful analysis, check out The World’s Strongest Librarian’s take here.