I adore this book. It made me want to do 3 things:
1. Read more of Sigrid Nunez. 2. Read more Susan Sontag. 3. Be Susan Sontag, or at least believe I coI adore this book. It made me want to do 3 things:
1. Read more of Sigrid Nunez. 2. Read more Susan Sontag. 3. Be Susan Sontag, or at least believe I could be Susan Sontag.
This book is perfect in many ways, from the length to its treatment of the topic. It is based on a pretty implausible premise (but a true one): she was Susan Sontag's assistant and was dating Sontag's son and then moved in with them. Sounds completely nuts. And something that led to a messed-up relationship with Sontag and the son and the literary world. But how amazing of an experience? And how fortunate we are that she is such a good writer as well, so she can share some memories of it with us. I'm sure Nunez could have written a much longer book about these experiences, and I think it is extremely good judgment that she has condensed them down into a literary work in its own right, not just because of the subject.
And I think the point of this book is not to make people want to be Susan Sontag (it is not a mean portrait or a slander by any stretch of the imagination, but it is hardly flattering in some points), but that's what happened to me when I read this book. Perhaps I fancy that Sontag seems like a really extreme version of my college self, which is something I always secretly wish I could go back to. I could be sleepless, drugged up on caffeine, writing for days at a time, reading a lot, collecting books, thinking constantly, drinking little, judging other women for femininity, etc. I also think I use "boring" a lot. See? I'm almost there. Sadly, that's not what my life is like, and I have a job (a huge sign of failure for Sontag), but there is always a dream of success.
(I'm being partially facetious; it's up to you to figure out how much.)
--- FAVOURITE QUOTES ---
"Looking back, I only wish that I could feel more joy -- or, at least, that I could find a way of remembering that is not so painful." (35)
"After all, what mattered was the life of the mind, and for that life to be lived fully, reading was the necessity." (84)
"She often struck me as someone who wanted to be feeling ten times what she actually felt. Ten times happier, or ten times sadder, or ten times more stimulated by whatever it was that had her attention. (Could this have been at least partly at the root of her hunger to watch so many movies and performances -- to repeat every experience that gave her pleasure -- such a staggering number of times? Never enough: what a cruel ethic to live by." (133)...more
This books has been getting very good reviews, many of which note that it is addictive. That is true, but that is really not (for me) always indicative of a good book. In this case, although the writing style is simpler and more mainstream than I usually like, it is still reasonably good writing, although there are repetitions of several somewhat cliched terms.
I did not like the narrator, but I think that was the point of the book. He basically reminded me of every skeezy guy I met abroad, and there were a lot of them. I have some friends in London that are basically a version of this guy as well. I am going to a book club that is reading this book, so I am sure we will all discuss his psychological state, and whether he didn't know or he wanted to ignore what he knew so that he could feel guilty later. I kind of want some of my expat male friends to read this, so we can discuss whether they have more sympathy for him. I find him deeply annoying. And would definitely not marry him if he wrote this to me (the narrative trick being that the book is a confession to his fiancee).
I think that narrative trope is interesting, in a Russian literature sense, as it has some parallels to the story of Tolstoy making his wife read his diaries full of terrible stuff when they got married. I assume that was intentional; it would be weird if not.
It has some good phrases about being an expat, though. Some of my favorite quotes were:
[about a Zhiguli car] "It was the sort of car that most of the men in Moscow had once spent half their lives waiting to buy, or so they were always telling you, saving and coveting and putting their names on waiting lists to get one, only to find -- after the wall came down, they got America on TV and their better-connected compatriots got late-model imports -- that even their dreams had been shabby." (16)
"I was a long way from things and people I didn't want to think about -- including myself, my old self, the so-what lawyer with the so-what life I'd left behind in London. The me that you know now. I was in a place where today, every day, almost anything might happen." (101)
"Underneath it all, I suppose, was the knowledge that I could have turned out the same way as my parents, and the fear that maybe I still could -- that I might not manage to make my own life at all." (113)...more