Ugh's Reviews > Book of Clouds

Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis
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U 50x66
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Jun 07, 2012

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Read in June, 2012

My missus was given this as a present by a friend who'd recently moved back to London, having spent six months in Berlin. We're not entirely unfamiliar with Berlin ourselves: we spent a few days there a couple of summers ago, and said friend showed us around.

The missus didn't much like the book, and she warned me I wouldn't either, but I wanted to read something that wasn't set in the UK or US, and all of the local bookshops were closed for the extended bank holiday weekend, so I was stuck with what I could find on our bookshelves. This was nice and thin, so it won.

I hated the first chapter, and I don't think it would be too much of a spoiler if I told you what that chapter consists of: the narrator thinking she sees Hitler dressed in drag on the metro on a night in the late 80s. Yes, really. How teenage, how crass, how utterly boring. I very nearly gave up in disgust right then and there.

But, since there was nothing else to take its place, I ploughed on.

Book of Clouds is Aridjis' first novel, and it shows. Some of the early attempts to be all observant and writerly had me stifling snorts of derision, such as:

'The rain made a deafening sound, an uneven pour like the decanting of ten thousand aquariums, and I stood at my window ... watching as the rain washed the dirt from car windows, promises from fulfillment, and a small bird from a nest.'

Many events seem plonked into the novel for no more reason than to justify the shoehorning in of some such writerly observation or metaphor, the vast majority of which are jarringly unilluminating. And nothing that happens ever matters, and none of the imagery comes to anything, and none of it leads anywhere. According to the cover of the copy I read, Paul Auster liked BoC, and I can see why.

But... it's written with such brevity that it flies by in just a few hours, and somewhere along the way I did find myself enjoying it ever so slightly. Not every observation or metaphor is terrible, and not all of the plot points are uninspired, and at least one of the three main characters is fairly interesting. Berlin itself isn't really brought to life, nor is the narrator, nor is the perspective of an isolated foreigner in a city with history, but when all 209 of these gossamer-thin pages are placed side by side, somehow they combine to make a heftier, more purposeful thread than their initial weightlessness would lead you to expect.

2.5 stars if I could, but 3 not so begrudgingly.
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