switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > Seven Types of Ambiguity

Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman
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Dec 14, 11

Read in December, 2011

Akira Korosawa's film Rashomon is about a crime that is witnessed by several individuals who all have credible but polarized viewpoints of the event. SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY is an intellectual Rashomonian potboiler, a colossal coil of colliding and deviating entanglements. However, we KNOW how the crime occurred. But do we really know who is guilty, beyond the obvious defendant?

It is a world of contrasts and overlaps, of paradoxes and semblances, of poetry and corporate shenanigans, gambling and grumbling, prostitution and restitution, love and lust, betrayal and fidelity, infidelity and incorruptibility, obsession and distraction, and perhaps the kitchen sink.

This book is a courtroom thriller, a love story, a social inquiry, and a study of manners. It is structured with seven narrators whose lives intersect in surprising and stunning twists and twisted knots. The opulent story is situated in Australia, in the state of ambiguity. It is bold, with brazen characters and a show-stopping plot.

Seven narrators share the story, and each has only one section of narrative. Some narrators have twice as many pages as others, but all have a tremendous impact on the reader. You see it one way, and then the next narrator's perspective shifts the kaleidoscope a notch or two, substantiating the ambiguity evident in the previous viewpoint while cross-examining each character's version of clarity.

It opens with a middle-aged psychiatrist, Alex Klima, a transgressive therapist whose lack of boundaries violates every code of therapeutic ethics imaginable, and yet whose voice and unfathomable empathy is as humane as his breach is abominable. He is the central protagonist's psychiatrist and friend, (although it is really more of an ensemble, the central protagonist, Simon, is the one on trial) the one who visits Simon daily in jail and remains his closest confidante up and through the trial.

Simon has been arrested for kidnapping the son of his ex-girlfriend, a woman he hasn't even spoken to in ten years, but he is in psychic bondage, because his love for her won't stop. He is a schoolteacher who was laid off during the downsizing of mercenary Australia that stemmed from all the economic disasters that ensued after the collapse and entropy of global corruptions and end-stage capitalism. He is a poet and intellectual, whose dog Empson was named for the author of the book that the title of this book is poached from. Simon lives by the ideology of Empson's 1930 literary analysis of language; the principles of Empson are Simon's articles of faith.

According to Empson, there is such depth of meaning in words that there are complex and confounding interpretations of poetry/linguistics, that each verbal thrust contains highly interpretive subtleties. This concept wraps itself around the story, also, both generally and specifically, in a myriad of ways that are best left to the reader to discover.

The other five characters fuel this marathon of a book with such driven force and depth that I was literally sweating and weeping by the denouement. The final, short section's narrator is a dramatic surprise that does more than weld together the characters and story; it transforms it. Everyone in the book is on trial, and so is the whole human race. We are all guilty of ambiguity. And this book gave me hope--that we all testify to humanity.
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Charles I really liked the book, too. Not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit, nor for those raised on the pablum of "best sellers" it is an intricate, demanding, but worthwhile read. I strongly recommended it - to a (small) handful of thoughtful and intelligent friends, ardent readers, all. I am happy that you are in that group.


switterbug (Betsey) Thank you, Charles! I am proud to be a member of your intelligent circle of readers. I still think about this book.


Charles I suspect that it will resonate for a while.


message 4: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Paganus Wonderful review.


switterbug (Betsey) Thank you, Ian!


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