I wanted to like it. My thoughts on this novel are best expressed by Ursula K Le Guin in her review for The Guardian: "Like Cormac McCarthy and others,...moreI wanted to like it. My thoughts on this novel are best expressed by Ursula K Le Guin in her review for The Guardian: "Like Cormac McCarthy and others, Lee uses essential elements of a serious genre irresponsibly, superficially. As a result, his imagined world carries little weight of reality. The whole system is too self-contradictory to serve as warning or satire, even if towards the end of the book the narrator begins to suspect its insubstantiality." (less)
I enjoyed the second half of the novel. Scalzi breaks the narrative apart and reassembles it in clever ways. As things become more and more meta-ficti...moreI enjoyed the second half of the novel. Scalzi breaks the narrative apart and reassembles it in clever ways. As things become more and more meta-fictional the possibilities stretch far past a simple parody of Star Trek and offers some rewarding commentary on the genre of science fiction.(less)
The reader is encouraged to feel sorry for the narrator, Jake, because the woman he’s infatuated with won’t sleep with him. To make things worse for t...moreThe reader is encouraged to feel sorry for the narrator, Jake, because the woman he’s infatuated with won’t sleep with him. To make things worse for the protagonist, she sleeps with a Jew and a bullfighter, and she is engaged to a Scottish drunk.
It is an insulting premise. Despite the misogyny and the racism, I finished this book hoping to discover what makes it a favorite. Many praise Hemingway for what he leaves unsaid, how the reader is prompted to infer meaning and make connections, but this novel comes across as less intentional than some of his other work. Here Hemingway often appears lazy and/or drunk. The book rushes through scenes that could better explain the characters and their world.
Hemingway is very good at establishing a subtext through dialogue. Hemingway is a man of action and the passages depicting violence have the strongest writing. He is bored with the parts between the rising tension and explosions, and he gives less of an effort when the characters aren’t in conflict.
“Up here the country was quite barren and the hills were rocky and hard-baked furrowed by the rain.” (93)
Okay. Fine. But then on page 95, “The country was barren and rocks stuck up through the clay.”
If the description of the countryside is important enough to describe twice in two pages why recycle the same imagery? That’s not economical or understated. It’s not a metaphor and it doesn’t appear again in the book.
What is the point of placing this novel in Spain and France if the reader is never given any real sense of place? Things often bleed together because there are few descriptions to distinguish one location from another. Hemingway enthusiasts could argue that this was done on purpose to mirror the narrator’s inebriation, a blur of events. However, I don’t think it’s on purpose. Hemingway will stumble through a sentence about how the crowded square was crowded and quickly move on, but with a sober focus he writes half a chapter on a concussion and a bullfight. He’s capable of providing excellent descriptions—he does a good job of describing the fiesta in Chapter 15. But he does not do well with the aspects of his story that he finds less interesting, regardless if those details might be important to the story, or his reader.
NIT-PICKY: The dude hates commas. This line really bugged me: "I went out of the room and turned the door to quietly." (182) (less)
The Orphan Master's Son is a strong story. Massive in scale and ambition, Johnson shows exceptional skill in the way he bends genres and tone.
Some ha...moreThe Orphan Master's Son is a strong story. Massive in scale and ambition, Johnson shows exceptional skill in the way he bends genres and tone.
Some have criticized the believability of Johnson's North Korea. However, I found Texas to be unconvincing. I just couldn't suspend my belief in the pages spent in the U.S. I had difficulty accepting Tommy, Wanda, and the senator. Who are they? Who do they report to? They create more questions and they feel like unnecessary devices.
My biggest issues with the book stem from the way many of the characters speak. I hate comparing artists, but while reading the Orphan Master's Son I kept thinking of how when David Mitchell writes about another culture his language exhibits mannerisms from the speech being represented in the text. In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet the English feels inhabited by Japanese and Dutch because it employs traits from those languages.
That isn't the case in the Orphan Master's Son. It is assumed that the dialogue presented is intended to be a translation of informal Korean speech. Okay, but is that the reason Johnson employs informal American English? He uses expressions, speech patterns and euphemisms unique to the U.S. to convey what the Korean characters are saying. Would a North Korean say the equivalent of "how come?" or "what's got you down?" Would they use contractions? I don't know for certain, but I found this distracting. Often the language didn't feel right for expressing non-native English speakers.
In Texas Jun Do gets a chance to speak with many native English speakers. He shares with them exaggerated stories from the DPRK. In half a page Jun Do uses the word domineering, forlorn, and stardom. He intentionally splits infinitives to make more poetic sentences, he describes his pretend wife as "unaccountably alone," and says her father was, "a real asshole." While his wounds are being treated by an American doctor, he says his stitches, "itch like crazy." This dialogue does not fit a man with limited ESL training that has no access to English media. The incongruity of language is also visible in the exposition. "It had felt pretty shitty being one of those people." Does it make sense to define what Commander Ga feels as "shitty?" Does he really feel shitty about endangering the lives of innocent people? Towards the end of the first half of the book, the protagonist is imprisoned at a mine. While thinking about possible jobs he might be assigned, the reader is told that he could only "hope it wasn't burying all these fucking people." He's really thinking of the adjective form of the word fuck?
Perhaps this is intentional and Johnson is making a comment on how people are people. Perhaps writing in this style it is meant to help American readers understand that they share some of the same fears and motivations as those in a country they can only imagine. Maybe.(less)