“There was something about him. Something worth knowing. That much was certain.”
In life, there are times when you meet someone and realize "there's“There was something about him. Something worth knowing. That much was certain.”
In life, there are times when you meet someone and realize "there's just something about them". Maybe you know what I mean. Those people who may not be the best-looking, not even your usual type, not the smartest, the funniest or the "best" at anything really... but, for some reason, you're drawn towards them. And it's wonderful. You don't have to be a romantic to think there's something incredible about being pulled towards someone by some strange unseen force - God? Fate? The very chemistry of the universe? How wonderful to think your bond with someone goes beyond the physical and the rational.
I understand that. And yet... it doesn't work for me in books. Or, at least, it never has yet. Perhaps it's because this feeling that warrants a "there's just something about him/her" is very personal to the one experiencing it. That's the beauty of it, right? That no one else really gets it. But, as the reader of a romance novel, I kind of need to get it. If I want to fall in love with a couple, I need to feel the chemistry between them. I need to love them too.
And that's why instalove never works for me. "There's just something about him/her" never works for me. For me, ineffable emotions don't work in novels when all I have are the words before me. I appreciate in real life there are times when you can't describe how you feel with words; but, in books, being unable to describe something with words is kind of a big problem. Or, not even describe, but SHOW. No need to tell me how you feel, it's even better if you show me through character experiences, dialogue and the details between them.
This book has an interesting premise. It's historical with a fantasy aspect and in this story "Love" and "Death" are actual beings who select players in a millennia-old game. In the past, Death has always won, but can Love finally prevail when it comes to Henry and Flora?
The best bits about this book are the 1930s setting and the subtle explorations of race and homosexuality going on in the background. Henry is a wealthy white boy with a college scholarship and little to worry about, even though this is Depression-era America. Flora is a black girl who sings in jazz clubs by night, hoping to one day become the next Amelia Earhart. And then there's Ethan, a boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in a society that would never accept him. The little subplots were excellent, though sadly overshadowed by the "Game".
When Henry sees Flora, he is immediately mesmerized by everything about her for no real reason except it is their "destiny". What then follows is pages and pages of him being cheesy every time she appears:
“He’d never heard anything like her voice, which made him wish he had his bass in his hands, just so he could return the sounds, a mix of chocolate and cream, something he wanted to drink through his skin.”
Not only that, but people do an awful lot of "sensing" in this book. I've said in the past that I find this kind of storytelling lazy - when the characters either do or don't do something because they "get a feeling" about it. Like not trusting the bad guy because they "have a bad feeling". It's lazy and I don't buy into it.
All this being said, the author writes some beautiful descriptions of 1930s Seattle and the jazz scene. Plus, the subplots about race and sexuality were handled in a sensitive and engaging way. If the author branches off from destiny-inspired romance in her future books, I might come back to her work.
I have only read one other Ishiguro novel and that is Never Let Me Go. Nevertheless, I too was intrigued about what would happen when a highly-acclaimI have only read one other Ishiguro novel and that is Never Let Me Go. Nevertheless, I too was intrigued about what would happen when a highly-acclaimed author of literary fiction transitioned into fantasy. Unfortunately, having read the book, I'm still not even sure.
What happened here? It's one of those novels where I can't help wondering if there's some underlying symbolism or metaphorical brilliance that totally went over my head. It's a simplistic, emotionally-detached and - at times - boring story, so I'm inclined to assume Ishiguro was aiming at smarter people than me who would take something deeper from it.
But I don't think so. I find myself leaning towards Craig's interpretation that Isiguro gives us the information and lets us decide what to do with it. Interpret as you will, I guess. Especially with that ending that Kirkus believes to be "one that will shock you". Well, I would not say I was shocked. I would say I was mildly surprised that Ishiguro had convinced me to keep reading the last 300 pages when all I got was a fizzled out ending and no answers.
Screw subtlety and interpretation! I want answers, dammit.
Credit where it's due: I was very intrigued in the beginning. I'm fascinated by all kinds of stories about memory and memory loss, whether it's a thriller like The Girl on the Train, a sad contemporary like Still Alice or a fantasy like this. My memories define who I am and the thought of losing them is terrifying to me. Considering that this book opens on a premise of an entire village experiencing weird memory loss - forgetting people who have left, sons they haven't seen in a while, or arguments they just had that morning - I was ready to love it.
But the exploration of this memory loss with Axl and Beatrice was unsatisfying and really damn repetitive after a while. I guess people who constantly forget what they have said are likely to keep saying it again but, hell, it makes for a tedious read. I grew tired of hearing about how their son was waiting for them, how Beatrice experienced some pain but, oh, it was nothing really, how maybe they had an argument but neither can remember so let's forget it, and pretty much everything about King Arthur was mind-numbing.
Also, I called this emotionally-detached and I'd like to explain what I mean. I don't think we ever develop an emotional connection with the characters. Axl and Beatrice have no personality (does anyone?) and speak so formally to one another. It's so... strange. This has to be the most polite fantasy I've ever read. I know this is set just after the Roman period in Britain but, come on, I find it difficult to believe an old couple spoke to each other like this. And not just them, there are battles and bloodshed and everything is so weirdly polite.
Person 1: I say, old chap, I'm afraid I'm going to have to slay you! Person 2: Dear me, that is unfortunate. But fight I shall and perhaps I will win!
Yeah, that's not a direct quote, but I swear there are pieces of dialogue like that.
And Axl calls Beatrice "princess" all the time. ALL THE TIME. I know you might be thinking that's sweet, but ALL THE TIME. At the end of every sentence, he addresses her as "princess". When they're afraid for their lives, he manages to find time to slip "princess" into every thing he says.
This book is weird enough that I'm sure it'll inspire many exciting interpretations, but my imagination isn't playing. It's a boring journey with boring characters and a fabulously anticlimactic non-ending.