This is a difficult book to describe. Put briefly, the novel attempts to capture the mind of an infant. It is occasionally engaging and sometimes wittThis is a difficult book to describe. Put briefly, the novel attempts to capture the mind of an infant. It is occasionally engaging and sometimes witty, but is spoiled by numerous pseudo-philosophical musings. These supposed pearls of wisdom include the following:
"There isn't any point to remembering that which has no connection to pleasure". Really? No point in remembering your past mistakes, then?
"For children the only true pleasure lies in eating". Obviously no child enjoys playing in the park, or splashing water in the bath.
"Thought isn't possible without language". Really? This isn't an absurd idea, but highly contentious nonetheless. Philosophers have been debating the relation of language to thought for centuries.
"Seeing involves choice. Whoever looks at something has decided to fix his attention on that one thing, to the exclusion of other things. That is why sight, the very essence of life, constitutes a rejection". Why is sight "the very essence of life"? What is she talking about?
"Knowing what will happen in the future, we are faced with a simple choice: either we resolve not to become attached to people and things, or we decide to love them even more fiercely". Or we love them in the same way as before.
"I had begun to think that our individuality lay in the following: tell me what disgusts you and I will tell you who you are. Our personalities mean nothing; our inclinations are mostly ordinary. What disgusts us expresses who we really are." What utter bilge!
"At three, you don't automatically ask adults questions, for you're not yet convinced that they have more wisdom. Perhaps that's not wrong." Perhaps it is. What three-year-old doesn't constantly ask "why"? Who seriously believes that an adult doesn't have more wisdom than a three-year-old?
All this portentous nonsense is a pity, because there are many amusing episodes in this little novel. The account of the narrator's father studying under a Noh master is a finely crafted piece of comic writing. There are also some genuine insights in addition to the phony philosophy. Nothomb's description of a toddler's anguish when told that she will leave behind her beloved Japanese nurse is psychologically convincing.
It takes more than charm, however, to mask this novel's more serious underlying failings. The few drops of genuine insight are lost in a sea of pretentious waffle....more