**spoiler alert** Certainly not the easiest novel to wade through, but it does reward the patient reader with its blend of whimsy, political allegory,...more**spoiler alert** Certainly not the easiest novel to wade through, but it does reward the patient reader with its blend of whimsy, political allegory, alternative/parallel worlds, dystopian satire and vivid, highly surreal imagery and crackling dialogue (with an alternative vernacular that takes some getting used to). Think John Irving and Russel Hoban filtered through the lens of Terry Gilliam.
It's a complex, sprawling, coming of age tale, told in the first person by the titular "hero", Tristan Smith, a horribly disfigured dwarf whose life we follow from gut wrenching birth to middle age. It is divided into two roughly equal halves, one for each of the imaginary countries--Efica and Voorstand--that the story inhabits. Efica feels like a stand in for New Zealand/Australia while Voorstand is an obvious, if exaggerated version of the United States. Much is made of Voorstand's cultural and political domination of the quirky island nation of Efica, with much of the action likely based loosely on real events that occurred between these two regions.
The story begins, logically, with Tristan's ghastly, painful birth to his brave, willful mother, Felictiy Smith, the creator and director of an alternative theatre community in the fictional city of Chemin Rouge, Efica. The birth itself begins appropriately enough during a performance of Macbeth and ends at hospital bedside where doctors helpfully encourage her to let them dispose of the abomination. Felicity relents, showing her defiant, combative nature, and raises the child within her insular theatre world. She is perhaps one of the great female characters in contempory literature and manages to hold this disparate world of alternative, agit-prop theatre, it's cast of unusual characters and the narrative itself. A trio of men hover around her--only one of which can be the biological father--but who all act in some way as surrogate fathers at different periods of the story. Of these three, the stage manager and sometime thief, Wally, becomes the most subtle and fully formed character and the only character aside from Tristan who appears throughout the entire story.
The book is strongest when Felicity is at the centre as she is such a radiant and magnetic figure. Regrettably she is only present in the first half, as she falls victim to dark political machinations that form much of the twisting narrative. The second half mostly takes place in Voorstand when Tristan is an adult and has recovered emotionally from his mother's abrupt and shocking death. The novel never quite recovers its balance after her loss, despite the addition of several new characters one of whom, Jacques/Jaquie is another enticing, and unusualy quirky female character.
The depiciton of Voorstand itself is remarkably original and vivid, especially its dazzling and intoxicating mass culture creation, The Sirkus--a kind of surreal hybrid of Cirque de Soleil and live 3D video games. Things get very complex and twisted by the end as a number of interwoven stories conclude in often unexpected ways. A denouement is provided as a kind of epilogue and it's not entirely satisfying as it feels a bit bland after all the fireworks preceding it.
But I have to commend the author, Peter Carey for putting so much effort and imagination into this story. He successfully creates believable, alternative societies with their own mythologies and rituals, as well as memorable, multi faceted characaters. His use of language is witty, vivid and economical. Beautiful, descriptive prose abounds, as well as witty dialogue, replete with an invented vernacular that adds to the depth and texture of the fictional worlds.
I would recommend this novel to keen readers who like to be challenged by complex material and who may have an interest in world culture, mass media, political history and theatre, as well as a taste for the surreal and the unusual. (less)
I'm re-reading this remarkable book and have changed my rating from a 4 to a 5. This is a book that should, I believe, be re-read carefully and each f...moreI'm re-reading this remarkable book and have changed my rating from a 4 to a 5. This is a book that should, I believe, be re-read carefully and each finely wrought sentence lingered over and absorbed into one's system the way a deep cleansing breath is used in yoga or meditation.
I'm working on a proper review but it's going to take some time to get it right. In the meantime I would recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate the beauty of masterfully written prose that tackles the big themes of life in a setting that is grim, hopeless, pitiless and cruel, but embedded with purpose.(less)
Such a complex narrative with themes within metaphors within allegories within, well, everything that can be crammed into a 560p novel. I'll have to l...moreSuch a complex narrative with themes within metaphors within allegories within, well, everything that can be crammed into a 560p novel. I'll have to let digest and marinate in my brain for a bit longer before coming up with a proper review.(less)