This is one of those books that I wish we could do half-stars for. It's not perfect, but it is almost there.
if I had to pick one word to describe the...moreThis is one of those books that I wish we could do half-stars for. It's not perfect, but it is almost there.
if I had to pick one word to describe the book, it would be charming, followed closely by wondrous. It does what I want fiction to do; it takes me to places that I can only go in my imagination. Even the most skilled CGI user couldn't go where this books leads.
So what is my hold-up? There are two things, I think. One is a minor quibble: the structure is the first. It's interesting and I appeciate what Mr. Alameddine was doing--the way he cuts up the main family story by splicing in two to three mythical story lines, but there was something a little herky jerky about it and a little too insistent. For me, a book like Ondaatje's The English Patient does the same thing, but the intercutting is more subtle and more beautiful.
The other drawback is the language. The stories being told are so rich, so sumptuous, that I wish the language would match it. This may be unfair. But the language throughout The Hakawati is a little flat. It is as if the imagination of the writer so taxed him, that the language could not keep up with what it was describing.
In the end, these objections are not major ones. Any book that can fill you with wonder is worth reading, and The Hakawati will fill you a child-like awe at what stories can do if we just listen to them. (less)
I should start this off by saying that I like the book. It's good. It's fine. It's literary fiction by the numbers.
This may sound like I'm damning th...moreI should start this off by saying that I like the book. It's good. It's fine. It's literary fiction by the numbers.
This may sound like I'm damning the book with faint praise, and in a sense, this is true enough. However, the fault may lie with me. Here's what I mean:
Let the Great World Spin reads like one of those small Indie movies (often set in New York) in which a group of characters are intertwined by chance. The characters are interesting and well-written (maybe too well-written, which I will explain below.) That said, there's a budding romance at the end of the book that is especially fun to read, and it's a credit to Mr. McCann that this is so. In fact, Mr. McCann is one of those writers whose best writing comes out in his characters. I know this. As I know that creating and sustaining characters throughout a novel.
But reading this book, I also got the feeling that there was a certain box this book was made to fit in. I was conscious of the box the way one might be conscious of any genre when the writing upholds its rules just a little too well. And that's what's going on here.
Literary fiction, or at least the way the term often gets defined, is all about characters and their inner lives. There are great novels, literary "serious" novels that give you this in new and interesting ways, and then there are novels like this one that adhere to "The New Yorker style of fiction" a little too closely. By which I mean that nothing much happens unless you think following the rapid-fire synapses of a character is action.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking to fiction to get guts and gore and explosions, but there's something a little too literary about reading pages and pages of a character's decisions, observations, and other thoughts about whatever. In other words, if the character is someone whose personality and way of being in the world is cerebral, then it makes sense that you spend time in his/her brain. But I'm not sure that everyone pays attention to the small things the way writers are supposed to, and so what you get is this strange overlay of the concerns/observations of a writer coming out in the mouth of ordinary people trying to survive. I just don't buy it, and I find it annoying.
I guess to put it simply, Let the Great World Spin feels like it's a by-the-numbers-novel. Mr. McCann knows his craft, no doubt. But the craft got in the way of a story too many times to make me love this book as much as I wanted to. (less)
Reading Kelly Link is like a puzzle that is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult, but it's always so rewarding. As a writer, and as someone who enjo...moreReading Kelly Link is like a puzzle that is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult, but it's always so rewarding. As a writer, and as someone who enjoys writing fiction that does the strange and unexpected, I read Magic for Beginners as a student/apprentice trying to figure out why I had this floating feeling throughout. What was it that was filling me with wonder? How could I replicate?
In the end, I'm not sure I figured that out. There are times when Ms. Link is on her own and I can't follow the logic or my imagination couldn't keep pace, but I'll keep trying. And so should you.(less)