Asa's Reviews > Vid Syrterns stränder

Vid Syrterns stränder by Julien Gracq
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U 50x66
's review
Nov 04, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: 1001-books, annoying_main_character

I vacillated on what grade to give this book, how much I really liked it, because while there were some things that I really liked there were also things that really annoyed me. I finally gave it four stars, mostly because I can see myself wanting to reread it some time.

Opposing shore is set in a fictitious European-feeling country named Orsenna, in a time where there are cars and steamboats but no modern feeling to anything. The main character, the one everything is told through in the book, is a young man called Aldo. He's from an old family who live in the capital of the country, also called Orsenna, and he has grown bored with his life which involves the usual activities of bored, rich young men, so he accepts a post as a government observer at the Admiralty post in Maremma on the coast of the bay of Syrtes. On the other shore lies Farghestan, and there has been a state of war between Orsenna and Farghestan for three hundred years but there has been no open warfare for most of those years but instead a silent truce that involves no one from either country venturing more than a certain distance away from shore.

The things I liked about this book was the atmosphere and the languge, which showed you a country that had stagnated, with the same old families taking the important posts, the poets still writing about the war, and everyone still more focused on the past than on moving forward. Aldo is in the habit of seeing everything and everyone around him through feelings, and sometimes it works very well. He describes Orsenna as stagnant and rotting, old and turned inward, resting on old glory, and it feeds back into the plot and why other people act the way they do. About halfway through the book I could see where everything was going, and I had to keep reading to see how it would get there and the end felt both right and inevitable, and as another character tells Aldo in the last chapter some things has to happen and the characters involved could be anyone, their identities and motivations aren't important.

What dragged down the book for me and made me very annoyed in places was Aldo. Like I said above, Aldo sees everything through feelings and a lot of the time his feelings are completely wrong. He likes people who want to use him, he feels safe and free when things are out of his control, and he relies on his feelings to tell him what to do so at times he doesn't do anything at all or exactly the wrong thing in that situation. He's the catalyst for the plot, but unintentionally and without seeing or knowing what's happening, and there were times when I wanted to knock his head against a wall and tell him to think about what he was doing. (I could also get annoyed at how there's only one female character with a name in the book, and a lot of gender essentialist nonsense, but Aldo is enough for today.)
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Megha (new) - added it

Megha I am about halfway into the novel and I am starting to notice some of things you mention in the last paragraph. Will have to see how I feel about it as I read further.

message 2: by Asa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Asa I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, because there are a lot of interesting things about it despite its fault.

message 3: by Megha (new) - added it

Megha Asa wrote: "I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, because there are a lot of interesting things about it despite its fault."

Oh yes, I am liking it on the whole. Except a few thing here and there.

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