Delphine's Reviews > Q

Q by Evan Mandery
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's review
Feb 21, 2012

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bookshelves: time-travelling
Read from February 21 to March 06, 2012

Apparently, Evan Mandery is a keen poker player. It shows in 'Q', a novel that turns the notion of time-travelling upside down simply by exaggerating the process.

Mandery's nameless protagonist is an assistant professor and a budding writer - or so he believes. Just before getting married (to his beloved 'Q'), he is being visited by a future 'I' that has disturbing news about the consequences of his marriage. Bewildered, the protagonist turns to the unexpected visitor for guidance. At his future 'I's request, he cancels the wedding, thereby changing the course of his life.

Surprisingly, the story doesn't end there - in fact, it's merely the beginning. 'I' will be asked over and over again to rearrange his past by many different 'I'-personae, causing chaos and ending up all alone.

The publisher should have issued a warning to readers of this book. To me, 'Q' has been a very frustrating reading experience. The novel starts off in the most boring way. It has an implausible premise and doesn't shun detail, even when the story itself is wearing very thin. Every now and then Mandery adds a touch of humour by turning his characters into stereotypes:

Together, you and Q live the modestly indulgent, culturally sensitive bohemian life of the postmodern liberal - you read The Times online, bicycle to the Cloisters Museum, and flush only out of necessity. On the windowsill Q maintains a flourishing herb garden. In the evenings you watch old movies and eat vegetarian takeout.

As the novel progresses, another layer of meaning is added to the story. The protagonist has a talent for writing counterhistorical novels - inventing parallel lives of well-known people (eg.Freud). Gradually, I became aware of the fact that I had been cheated as a reader, for this is actually a very smart novel that tackles the issues of fact and fiction. Early in the novel, the confident protagonist explains his reasons for writing:

The essential quality of a writer is empathy. It is the ability to view a situation from the standpoint of another living creature and to feel what it would feel. This is also the essential quality of a worrier. He sees no distinction between what happens to him and what happens to someone else. Nor does he see a distinction between what is and what could be.

On p.263, he is visited by a future 'I' that asks him to stop writing:

"The truth is, you're not a terrible writer. Some of your sentences are elegant. You occasionally use language in an interesting way. But you have a poor sense of what makes a good story and a horrible eye for detail. You lack the ability to empathize with the experience of the reader, envision what would be interesting to them.

The reason why I gave this novel only three stars has to do with the ending, which was very weak (in my opinion). Still, a novel worth reading, if you enjoy smart, satirical, postmodern and slightly tricky novels. If you want to read a nice romantic story, you might end up very disappointed.
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