Matt's Reviews > The Volcano Lover: A Romance

The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag
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it was ok
bookshelves: fictions-of-the-big-it, historical-fiction, femmes

I love Sontag the writer, provocateur, thinker, etc...and I love her essays and criticism. And her life. I always think twice about what she says and recommends and the attitudes she takes.

But this book didn't really live up to my expectations. I love some of it- the aphoristic insights and the subdued delineations of places and objects, especially. Her characterization can be pretty strong and sometimes the evocative feel of time and place is really there.

Unfortunately the writing is a little too self-conscious, a little too jagged and angular. There's this rather irritating tic she seems to have where her sentences. have to be like five or six words long. and end abruptly. It's almost as if she's willfully capping herself off once the idea or sensation is just starting to breathe. I think it stems from the ever-present ultra-intellectual quality of her writing and (at least, it seems to me) her general being. I understand this kind of thing, intimately, because when I try to write creatively I often start hacking up my sentences or spiking the rhythm because it seems too...derivative? Felicitous? Easy? "Stream of consciousness-y"? Simple? Cliched?

So I sympathize but for extended reading it's a little bludgeoning. One can feel (or at least I could) the massive intelligence and critical rigor of the mind that wrote this, but that same brain sort of weighs the whole thing down too often, nearly reaching the point, on many occasions, of being pedantic or turgid. I hate to say it because I have such deep respect for her but I can't ignore it.

Towards the end she starts to pick up speed- the free indirect discourse passing through the different characters starts to really pack an emotional and sensory punch. This happened throughout the novel when she cut loose a little bit and started to let the language do the talking (!). At times, things hum along pretty smoothly but there's always this leaden density (huge paragraphs, esoteric slightly interesting references, over-written psychological descriptions, chopped melody) just around the corner. I started to lose interest and do that page-flipping thing one does when a book starts to lose its pull.

It's not a bad book, it's just not a great one. Two stars is the perfect score. It's ok.

I'll read her other fiction, certainly, and I'll definitely dig in to more of her essays and nonfiction, etc. But as for now I'll hold off on the former and look forward to the latter.....
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Reading Progress

April 19, 2009 – Shelved
July 31, 2009 –
page 335
Started Reading
August 3, 2009 – Finished Reading

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