I'm not sure whether or not this book is good, but I do believe it is extraordinary. I do understand why some people dismiss it as a gimmick, and if tI'm not sure whether or not this book is good, but I do believe it is extraordinary. I do understand why some people dismiss it as a gimmick, and if that's how it strikes you, fine; for my own part, though, it would have been a great loss to shrug it off as such when there's so much underneath that 'clever' surface once I was willing to follow him all the way down. It seems to me to be not at all a book about time; it is a book about innocence and violence, with the inversion of time acting as a peculiar lens into the nature of destruction. His portrait of a human life run in reverse casts a kind of dark light on the story being told in a way no ordinary narrative progression could illuminate. I found myself reading it with a sense of walking too close to some perilous cliff edge. I don't know that I enjoyed it, but I do know that I would rather a life in which I had read it. ...more
A really pleasant surprise, this one. It's always a pleasure when characters behave in ways that are both unexpected and yet at the same time true toA really pleasant surprise, this one. It's always a pleasure when characters behave in ways that are both unexpected and yet at the same time true to their nature as it's been set up by the author - no one conforms to stereotype, and yet the book isn't ostentatiously defying stereotypes either. Selbourne seems to have thought through the full reality of each of his characters in a way I find impressive, so that they really seem like people, not illustrations for a tidy narrative about East meets West or Man meets Woman or Tradition Is Hard, as I initially feared. Worth reading just for for the exemplary way it gently shrugs off of expectations. ...more
If, like me, you loved Foucault's Pendulum and Name of the Rose but wanted to kick Baudolino, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna, and The Island ofIf, like me, you loved Foucault's Pendulum and Name of the Rose but wanted to kick Baudolino, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna, and The Island of the Day Before across the room, do yourself a favor and avoid The Prague Cemetery. As with those three novels, the main character is an insufferable mouthpiece for whatever Eco feels like debating at the moment, much of the plot entails the over-detailing of obscure bits of history that might be less boring if they weren't stuffed in as blow-by-blow accounts in enormously finicky detail devoid of emotional relevance, women hardly exist, and the point of the book seems primarily to be to show off how bloody clever Eco is. (These last two are true in all his books, but it was less maddening in the 80s.)
The Prague Cemetary reads in part like a very peculiarly written history textbook - often dull, VERY often incredibly frustrating, but laced with enough juicy maybe-true details to be almost worth reading. Well, at least until you stop to consider that the whole story concerns the theme of people accepting wild falsehood as truth if it's what they already want to believe, which makes the supposed historicity rather more complicated, and not excitingly complicated so much as oh-god-I've-forgotten-why-I-ought-to-care-again complicated. Except then there's the odd plot about amnesiac characters, all of whom are repugnant anyway and whose struggles to ascertain who they are and what they're doing add so little to the story I'm surprised even Eco bothered to leave it in there.
Unusually, the last thirty pages or so are much more interesting and engaging than the rest of the book, and I hated it slightly less by the end. But what made the ending satisfying could have been set up in a volume 200 or so pages slimmer, and it's tiresome to spend your time with a main character who is so relentlessly, endlessly, boringly unpleasant in every way. Look, just read Foucault's Pendulum and sub in the Jews everywhere it mentions the Templars - it tells basically the same story, but with much more flair and much less tedium. ...more
A difficult book. Simultaneously rather lovely and COMPLETELY MADDENING, and desperately in need of an editor - there are places where he repeats theA difficult book. Simultaneously rather lovely and COMPLETELY MADDENING, and desperately in need of an editor - there are places where he repeats the same wildly flowery simile almost word for word within less than five pages, which would have been a mere single annoyance if not for the fact that this is hands down the most over-similed book I have ever read and most of them should have been pruned out ANYWAY. Characters can't walk down the street without three paragraphs of description about the plants and the weather and the feel of the air, so that by the time they actually get to where they're going I'd forgotten why they set out in the first place because I was so scenery-dazzled.
And yet many of the similes are incredibly beautiful. Aslam has a completely tin ear for dialogue - his characters speak in exactly the same ay as the narrator, brimming with helpful, simile-laden exposition - and yet the images themselves are often constructions of great loveliness. I was disconcerted by the heavy-handedness of his anti-religious sentiment, despite his attempts to write from the points of view of the devout; I got the sense that he couldn't quite squash his feeling that the characters who were believers were basically stupid for sticking with their faith, even though he was trying to make them sympathetic (which effort I did appreciate). As an atheist myself, it was odd to find myself coming to the defense of his devoutly religious characters, but the scorn he had for them - combined with the fact that they mostly all women - left a bad taste in my mouth.
But though I was constantly annoyed and can't conclude that the book is a good one, those similes...! Not all of them work, and the book woul have been better with massively fewer of them, and yet...some of them are as improbably lovely as the butterflies fluttering (also somewhat pointlessly, it seemed to me) throughout the book. In fact, they are almost worth reading it for all on their own, if you don't bother to try to understand how someone with such poetic power can be such a poor writer in every other respect. ...more