I've wanted to like Michal Ajvaz. He's Czech. He's into Borges' brand of metaphysical, surreal fantasy. Even after only barely talking myself into likI've wanted to like Michal Ajvaz. He's Czech. He's into Borges' brand of metaphysical, surreal fantasy. Even after only barely talking myself into liking his other book in translation, The Other City, and reading some lackluster reviews of this one here, I continued wanting to like Michal Ajvaz. After so much wanting to like him, at about page 70 of The Golden Age, I had a very unpleasant feeling, akin to the first time you stick your cute but annoying nephew in a corner for a time out (though he had it coming for a while now): I shut the book and accepted that, despite some fun premises, despite the Dalkey imprint, Ajvaz is just not a good writer.
Show don't tell. It's a tired mantra, but it's true. Even if you dress it up in pseudo-poetic, ambiguously antique language, you're still just telling me a bunch of not-as-interesting-as-Borges ideas, which are too general to have any impact. If you're going to remove fiction from the realm of experience you need to be a pretty amazing thinker.
In Borges' stories the reader is making out fabulous shapes in the dark. A quick flash from the creature's scales as it moves away. In a story like "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" (one of my all time faves) or in his faux book reviews, he puts us a few steps' remove from the actual fantastic subject. He's learned a lot from detective stories. Ajvaz, on the other hand, tries to pour as much light as he can on his not-as-fantastic subject and in so doing he dashes any aura of mystery and wonder it might've had.
Also, if you want a story to be dreamy, don't use the adjective "dreamy" in your book all the time. It's just lazy.
Okay, goodreading public, feel free to hate this review. I feel like I'm writing angry margin notes on a student manuscript and that's kind of disrespectful and obnoxious, I realize. Maybe I'll have something nice to say in a few days. Perhaps I'm just disappointed to find the first dud in my stack of books from the Dalkey Summer Sale....more