Matt's Reviews > The Power of One

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
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May 08, 10

bookshelves: bildungsroman

"The Power of One," by Bryce Courtenay is well regarded as a fantastic novel, that did very well around the world and especially in Courtenay's native Australia. It quickly became the subject of a film adaptation. I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

It's not all bad, and I'll get the good things out of the way first. Courtenay's prose is nice, his own style that does not particularly read like anything else. Also, he has a knack for developing the supporting characters in the book over the course of a chapter or two. These are the only redeeming qualities.

To me 'The Power of One' is kind of like buying a really popular double album, giving it an intense listen, and feeling that half of it is completely worthless filler, and the other half some decent tunes. If the filler were taken out, it could be a decent single disc album, but instead its a rambling mess that has no idea where it is going.

The biggest problem with the book is that it has no idea what it wants to be. Its almost a story about a boxer. Its almost a story about a pianist. Its almost a story about race relations in South Africa. Its almost a story about a kid with a crazy born-again Christian mother. Instead, what it really becomes is a mess with too many themes going on that are never explored properly. The book tries to do far too much, never accomplishes anything, and has about 300 pages of absolute nonsense that contribute nothing to the story as a whole. It could have been a decent book if it were half as long and if an editor whacked Courtenay upside the head and made him actually find a focus of the book.

It is also a classic example of a "deus ex machina" sort of ending. Every character in the book that doesn't make it to the end seems to die suddenly, coming out of nowhere with no sense or reason to their death, and contributes nothing to the story. By the end, so many characters have randomly croaked that it becomes a maudlin mess. When tragedy strikes everyone, it stops meaning a thing when it happens.

The end of the story comes out of nowhere, and doesn't feel like an ending at all. The overwhelming quest of the protagonist is never accomplished, nor is it failed. It just ends, bringing back a minor character from the beginning of the story for one last appearance, then vanishes. Nothing. Apparently there is a sequel, 'Tandia,' but frankly I would rather read Paris Hilton's autobiography-- it probably makes more sense.
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