I got a couple of hours into this book (audio), and was reading it with jo with the hopes of doing another joint review, but we both decided to abandoI got a couple of hours into this book (audio), and was reading it with jo with the hopes of doing another joint review, but we both decided to abandon it for different (I think?) reasons. I feel like I want to document my thoughts, almost like a reminder to myself that *I should know better.*
This is not a review. I didn't finish, and am not starring it. It wasn't for me, but it very well could be for you - esp. for fans of historical fiction, and esp. if you loved Possession.
The overriding reason for my abandoning The Weight of Ink is because it bored me. On the surface, this should not have been so: the description here on gr sounds compelling. But here are the problems:
1) the early part of what I was reading hinges on the tension between Helen, an aging and ill academic historian who is called in to assess a cache of documents found in a 17th-C. house in London, which detail a small Jewish community living there after fleeing persecution in Spain, and Aaron Levy, her assistant, an American doing post-grad work in the U.K.. This tension reads as contrived and unfounded to me. Perhaps it is richer for academics or those in the know because of politics/personalities etc. in academia, which it seems to reference. But Aaron's annoyance and (why? it's nowhere justified in the text!) dislike of Helen reads as immature and cruel. (I feel like Kadish is setting us up for a later coming-together of these two as they wage intellectual battle with another set of academics, at which point it is entirely possible that this point will be nullified).
2) Aaron is having some sort of relationship (i.e., had a one-night stand) with a woman named Marissa, also American, who is now off working on a kibbutz in Israel. The characterization of Marissa as an über-hip, super-smart, sexually empowered, insouciant, activist type versus Aaron's puppy-dog, grovelling, insecurity-laden subservience to her - while at the same time he is chatting up the owner of the house and, we're told repeatedly, is all kinds of hotness and charm - annoyed me. I found the characterization of Aaron and Marissa weak and stereotypical - at least in the early going. I found the emails he sends her, which he worries she will perceive as boring and pedantic, to be clumsy exposition.
3) There's some sort of cultural translation/representation problem going on in Kadish's portrayal of these two Americans, and this was made worse by the audiobook reader's bad American accents. By way of just one example, we are told that in his undergrad program, a TA takes Aaron aside and, having noted no one partnered up with him for a class project, suggests that "he wipe the smirk off his face." (I'm paraphrasing, but the term 'smirk' was used) Maybe this happens in undergrad programs in the U.K., but that reads totally off in a North American context.* a) I'm not sure most N.A. TAs would care; b) even if they did, they probably wouldn't suggest "wiping the smirk off one's face" as a remedy for social exclusion - quite the contrary, in fact.
ETA: * I note, now, that Kadish is American. This makes me second-guess what I found to be a kind of tone-deaf representation of these two Americans. (there was more than once instance of this in the few hours I heard). I'm wondering now if this was more about the audiobook reader, who is British, and her bad American accent, than the writing.
4) the 17th-C. storyline of the young woman, whom we know as Aleph (the transcriber of the found letters) and her brother, is dramatic and tragic. The novel comes to life when we are learning about her. But the letters themselves are boring (at least to me). The whole find of the documents - which I see by the gr description becomes pivotal later in the novel - is just not interesting to me - and I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's too slow out of the gates or something. Or the other problems I've detailed here are overwhelming this nugget of goodness. I dunno. It just didn't work for me.
I am told that this novel takes off in the middle. Unfortunately I can't spend another 10 hours listening to find out if that's true. Maybe this book would be better on the page?
Mark this: I gave it the ole' college try, but this one's not for me....more
(This started off as a glossary of terms - which jo kindly helped complete, being a good Italian Catholic. Then the convo was so rich, we decided to m(This started off as a glossary of terms - which jo kindly helped complete, being a good Italian Catholic. Then the convo was so rich, we decided to make it a joint review.)
(view spoiler)[ Jakaem: So, I read up on the pope who blew up in his coffin, Pius XII. It really happened! They didn't embalm him correctly.
jo: wait, typically they don't embalm in italy; they just stick the body in the coffin and put it underground, where what has to happen happens.
jo: can i tell you the two moments that moved me most in the book?
Jakaem: Yes please do!
jo: 1. francis (well it’s francis isn’t he?) paid out of his own pocket to have benitez sex-reassigned; 2. the moment when benitez tells lomeli, "i was all set to go but i changed my mind," and lomeli says, "was the pope okay with this?" and benitez says, "well he made me cardinal didn't he?" that made me cry. what are your powerful moments?
Jakaem: well, those were fine moments indeed! I enjoyed the part after the bombing when the priests all walked holding hands back to Casa Santa Marta and the disgraced guy, the Nigerian, started singing, and they all sang together in solidarity.
jo: cuz the helicopters were seeing them!
Jakaem: yes right! the whole thing was really so well done, wasn't it?
jo: so well done. and lomeli sends the guards away, like, YOU HAVE TO LEAVE NOW.
Jakaem: that was very brave and just so dedicated.
jo: lomeli is so lovely.
Jakaem: I also liked the role that the art and architecture played in helping him / them hear God's voice.
jo: st. peter hanging upside down and still saying, YOU GO ON.
Jakaem: Was the intersex ending the most powerful thing for you?
jo: well it's right at the end, so i think so, but also the way francis is portrayed, getting all his chess pieces in order to ensure that the church stays holy. I also loved that lomeli is such a god-oriented character. it could easily have been a conspiracist, cynical book, but it ends up being a spiritual book.
Jakaem: this is a good point, and something I’d like to reinforce. There is something for everyone in this book; it’s not just for the Catholic or religious. As a non-believer, I found it fascinating and marvelous in terms of the politics, and the insider’s look at the goings-on in the Vatican, and especially the look at the liberal-conservative divide – it seemed to me to take this far beyond the religious setting. And also, it’s just such good, gripping story-telling.
Jo: omg, i read it in one sitting, and i know you did too. so, warning to the readers: you won't be able to put this down.
Jakaem: I'd like to bring up that Francis said before dying that he had lost faith in the Church.
jo: well who wouldn't? did i tell you about the latest scandal?
Jakaem: No - only the apartment guy who also appears in the book.
jo: check it out. they are out of control. i think this should give you a sense of what francis is dealing with.
Jakaem: DEAR GOD.
jo: i have no idea whether coccopalmerio is a righteous dude, but his secretary certainly isn't. i think the book talks about the threat of schism right? i think this is what francis is up against. he could fire 'em all and send them to the penal colonies but then there would be a schism cuz he isn't liked among the higher echelons of the church. does the book support this? not sure i remember.
Jakaem: Yeah, I think it does; somewhere it says that he was loved by the people but hated within the church by certain large factions.
jo: and that’s why he has to hide all sort of stuff in his bed lol.
Jakaem: he needed to make sure the right person found it though! The best MANAGER.
jo: the way it's constructed is brilliant.
Jakaem: But why would firing them lead to schism - wouldn't you have to have a faction that supported the shenanigans? Surely no one could come out and said, well hey, this is actually ok.
jo: well a lot of non-orgyastic priests are finding francis too much about tenderness and too little about abortion and the gayz.
Jakaem: The book does that well too I thought.
jo: the vatican peeps are powerful; if you think that this coccopalmerio guy wanted to make his orgyastic secretary bishop; i mean they have a lot of power and a lot of leverage. so if he did something drastic he would inflame spirits. people would get agitated. so many already hate vatican II, they want to go back to mass in latin and all that.
Jakaem: I found the book portrayed so well how daunting it is to take on the role of pope. It’s interesting to me how the necessity of humility yet also the belief that one is doing God’s will are combined. It’s an uneasy dissonance for most of them, especially Lomeli.
jo: on the theme of humility and knowing you are doing the will of god, well they seem inextricably linked to me. It's only but being humble enough NOT to do your own will that you know you are doing the will of god, no?
Jakaem: yes, I think that’s where this novel really soars - the nuance and authenticity of the characters’ struggles with their own (acknowledged? unacknowledged?) ambition combined with service. It comes up when Benitez challenges Lomeli about whether he wants to be pope. And then, at the end, we see Lomeli engage in some fantasy thinking when he thinks he’s about to become pope. I thought that scene was just fantastic. To your earlier point, though, Francis turns out to be about as liberal as it's possible to be.
jo: that's the novel's denoument, but, you know, that's so consistent with who he is. if you have to sum up his message in one word it would be tenderness. In that TED talk he literally says to CARESS people, but the english translator doesn't use caress, not once. i mean this pope is really about loving people tenderly so it stands to reason that he doesn't have to have a position about intersexuality to help the bishop of baghdad. he just loves him tenderly.
Jakaem: it takes a lot of courage to do so though.
jo: don’t you think that line has been crossed? i mean, he has done SO MANY COURAGEOUS THINGS. i expect that they'll snuff him.
Jakaem: I hope not.
jo: i don't think he cares. he abandons protocol all the time; walks into the crowd and they can’t stop him. every time he sees someone disabled he gets out of his bullet-proof popemobile and goes to caress them. it's really something. when he went to visit prisons for easter services, some time ago, he met with prisoners who were trans.
Jakaem: that is quite extraordinary. you've got to assume the conservative faction would have been outraged.
jo: but he also gave anti-"gender," as they call it in italy, speeches. I know of one for sure. so you see, for me, francis may have his ideas on this or that but when he has a human being in front of him, he's gonna treat them like they were his own beloved children. so that's what i had in mind with benitez: he’s been serving the poor and the church since day one; does francis care about fused labia? it's ludicrous to think about it.
Jakaem: Lomeli came around right quick too.
jo: he did. i wish that scene had lasted 200 pages. i mean it's fiction right? they can stretch five minutes for as long as they want.
Jakaem: this is your biggest beef with the novel, huh?
jo: yeah, totally. haha. it cost it one star.
Jakaem: It was sad to me they were going to ship O'Malley off to the hinterlands.
jo: hahahahah. you think innocent will do that? no way josé. he'll keep lomeli nearby. And o'malley was so trustworthy and sweet.
Jakaem: he offered Lomeli the secretary of state job.
jo: oh, i didn't remember. there you go.
Jakaem: O’Malley is another great character. I loved him.
jo: yeah, he and lomeli are just fucking awesome. For this catholic, they are exemplary and inspirational. and we haven't even mentioned lomeli's homily! let's put some passages in the quotes shall we?
Jakaem: that’s where it took off for me, this amazing set of thoughts about certainty, doubt, faith, humility:
“‘My brothers and sisters, in the course of a long life in the service of our Mother the Church, let me tell you that the one sin I have come to fear more than any other is certainty. Certainty is the great enemy of unity. Certainty is the deadly enemy of tolerance. Even Christ was not certain at the end. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” He cried out in His agony at the ninth hour on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our faith is a living thing precisely because it walks hand in hand with doubt. If there was only certainty, and if there was no doubt, there would be no mystery, and therefore no need for faith.
“‘Let us pray that the Lord will grant us a Pope who doubts, and by his doubts continues to make the Catholic faith a living thing that may inspire the whole world. Let Him grant us a Pope who sins, and asks forgiveness, and carries on.’” p.91