While I didn't mind the conceit (speculative fan fiction, nothing more), I did mind the writing, which was awkward, sometimes riotously pretentious, o...moreWhile I didn't mind the conceit (speculative fan fiction, nothing more), I did mind the writing, which was awkward, sometimes riotously pretentious, occasionally ungrammatical, and often downright clunky — it had nothing of the flow or poetry of Crevel's fiction. The point of view was confused and sometimes contradictory, and the pronouncements of the "voices" struck me as rather silly (especially in regards to their totally accurate predictions of the future — convenient, I suppose, but a no-brainer for an author writing so many decades after Crevel's death!). Such a short book should have taken me maybe one or two commutes to finish reading, but instead I could only struggle through a couple of pages at a time without losing patience. Now I must go back and reread Crevel to clear my mind of this literature-student-quality experiment. (less)
I have not seen the film based on this book, but I've heard many good things about it. Unfortunately, now that I've read the book, I have lost interes...moreI have not seen the film based on this book, but I've heard many good things about it. Unfortunately, now that I've read the book, I have lost interest in seeing the film that was based on it because I found the book tedious and rather dull. I didn't find it entertaining or clever or surreal. I didn't find it particularly engrossing, nor did I find it dreamlike or magical. While I appreciate some of the Gothic cliches the author was trying to subvert, they weren't subverted effectively enough for me to feel secure in assuming that was entirely his intention — the writing just came off as a bad attempt at replicating Gothic cliches but with the addition of a forced, superficial whimsy. Maybe they read much better in the original Czech, but a lot of the passages were clumsy, cheesy, and downright clunky. As this was a very quick read (a bath and a bus ride), I can't call it a total waste of my time, but I kept reading even when I wanted to put it down because I was waiting for it to get better . . . and it never did. (less)
I hesitate to give this a low rating because the author has clearly lived through some horrors and this memoir was intended more for therapeutic and d...moreI hesitate to give this a low rating because the author has clearly lived through some horrors and this memoir was intended more for therapeutic and documentation purposes than as a narrative for publication. I imagine it was difficult for her to write this in any detail and I applaud her for having done so. Still, the writing is dreadful — it's meandering, repetitive, and cliched, with an excess of exclamation marks and some gaping holes in terms of clarifying information. Tragic events unfold with no emotional impact because spoilers have been given earlier in the text. I would read several pages and think, "Wait, didn't I read this already?" And I wondered if the effect were intentional — surviving under the Khmer Rouge was mind numbing and painful, the labor was a deadening slog, and emotions were forcibly suppressed, so perhaps the author wanted to cause the reader to experience the same thing on an intellectual level as she did on a physical level? The word that to me best describes the book is flat. I felt distanced from, and not always interested in, what she was recounting, and that is troublesome when the subject matter is something so intense and horrific. The book was not helped by wretched editing, either. Often a verb or a crucial bit of punctuation was missing, prepositions were repeated, and incorrect words were used — for that, the author cannot be blamed, but the text should have been tightened and proofread before publication to prevent such jarring disruptions in flow. (Side note: I found myself quite annoyed by the author's insistence on claiming the privilege of her French citizenship and expectation that France should come to her rescue when she had never set foot on French soil before her Vietnamese liberators allowed her to leave southeast Asia. Unlike the majority of those who endured the Khmer Rouge, she did not have to deal with the after-effects of the regime and the rebuilding of her nation. I admit that starting afresh in a strange land is rough, but the emphasis and amount of time spent on details of her departure for and subsequent life in France somewhat minimize the hellishness of what she left behind.)(less)
An engaging idea — what if Rimbaud and Verlaine (well, characters meant to represent them) were in New York City in the early 1970s — is let down by a...moreAn engaging idea — what if Rimbaud and Verlaine (well, characters meant to represent them) were in New York City in the early 1970s — is let down by a belabored story-within-a-story conceit that just becomes confusing and tiresome. The language alternates between overly precious and dreadfully clunky, and the egregious typos and homophone errors in the edition didn't help the prose. Furthermore, while the unpleasantness of the characters may have been plausibly representative of the real poets on whom they were based, most of the examples of the literary cleverness (I hesitate to refer to it as poetry) attributed to the two main characters and their peers were just wretchedly written. (less)
It took me a shockingly long while to get through this book, mainly because I never had more than a few minutes at a time to read, but certainly not b...moreIt took me a shockingly long while to get through this book, mainly because I never had more than a few minutes at a time to read, but certainly not because it was tedious. In fact, I enjoyed the smooth and elegant prose (well, the translation of the prose, since I read it in English) and found the narrative, slim as it may have been, very absorbing. Not a lot happens — true, but what does happen feels real, and genuinely experienced. The concrete observations of Sigismond Pons's wanderings around Barcelona's red light district (the layout of which I felt I knew by the end of the book) are broken up by some wonderful random associations and drolly amusing observations as he distracts himself from opening the letter from home. When he does finally read the letter in its entirety its contents come as something of an anticlimax. The conclusion of the novel, while inexorable, seemed to me disappointingly predictable (not to mention perfunctory and perhaps a little hackneyed). In that respect the last 20 pages or so drained much of my pleasure from having read the preceding 200 pages. (less)
Why is this hailed as a window to pre-Nazi Berlin when the narrator's observations are not especially insightful, about her environs or about the time...moreWhy is this hailed as a window to pre-Nazi Berlin when the narrator's observations are not especially insightful, about her environs or about the times in general? Why is this hailed as feminist literature when Doris defines herself in terms of how desirable she is to men and chooses to remain blithely ignorant of the world around her unless it involves increasing her desirability and odds of finding a man to take care of her? There is validity in the comparisons to "Sex and the City" and "Bridget Jones's Diary" and in deeming Doris "the original material girl," but that's not necessarily a good thing, and it certainly doesn't make for an interesting novel. Doris is a shallow, judgmental, petty girl whose ambition is to become famous and wear fabulous clothing and be surrounded by the best of all consumer goods despite lacking the intelligence, skills, or work ethic that would merit such rewards on her own. She is not particularly clever or witty. She is proud of the fact that she lacks interest in politics or social affairs but is crafty and manipulative and tends to land on her feet because she knows how to stretch the truth (or lie) to get what she wants and is attractive enough to appeal to men's baser instincts. Her downward spiral is the result of the theft of a fur coat, and hanging on to that stolen coat is the primary motivation for a series of bad decisions she makes. I don't find that a particularly sympathetic plight.
I have no problem with stream of consciousness or faked memoirs that ramble and give half-thoughts in an attempt to seem realistic, but the writing is often incoherent and confusing. This edition is riddled with disgraceful typos that render things even more tricky to follow. (There are a lot of opening quotation marks with no closing quotation marks, so it is difficult to know when there has been a change in the speaker of dialogue.) I'm not sorry I read the book, but I can't say I enjoyed it. I am relieved, though, that it was a fast read and that I had checked it out from the library rather than purchased it. (less)