Susan's Reviews > Extraordinary Renditions

Extraordinary Renditions by Andrew Ervin
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's review
Oct 25, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: first-novel, book-club
Read from October 07 to 19, 2010

I should start off by staying that I LOVED the idea of this book: three loosely connected stories surrounding Americans in Budapest, Hungary. Before reading "Extraordinary Renditions," I hadn't read a novel set in Hungary, so I appreciated "seeing" it for the first time through the eyes of a talented writer.

I also enjoyed the way in which the author treated the use of the Hungarian language; 99% of the novel is written in English, but the 1% that is written in Hungarian is not translated. Hungarian is used in context, rather than spelled out in a strict, 1-to-1 translated fashion, allowing readers to deduce the meaning instead of trying to figure out what the words' English equivalent is.

A few technical details bothered me, though: first, Ervin was not consistent in his use of tenses. Sometimes I would read a sentence that felt off-kilter - so much so that when I re-read the sentence I would notice that he had mishmashed tenses within the same phrase or sentence in awkward, disorienting ways. Some of these different-tense interactions bothered me so much (made me so, um, tense) that I had a strong urge to revise them with a red pen (I probably would have on a couple of occasions had I owned the book outright instead of checking it out from the library).

Another issue bothered me, and that was Ervin's inconsistent use of free, indirect style (e.g., on p. 18, the narrator speaks of "ugly brown sausages" - does the protagonist or the narrator find the sausages ugly?). It's hard to tell whether or not Ervin's sporadic use of free, indirect style was planned or not, but for me it slowed down the narrative, rendered it clunky and confusing.

The final issue is the author's use of magical realism near the end of the story to tie parts of it together. The magical realism failed to tie the story together because it felt forced and, in the end, unbelievable (but not in the sense of "unbelievable" that magical realism aims for).

That said, I still enjoyed the stories, and parts of it felt (in a good way) like an extended poem. For that, and especially for the fact that this is the author's first novel, I recommend this read.
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