Friday, December 9, 2011

The Toughest Review I've Ever Had To Write

It's tangentially related to the honeymoon, but if you're truly more interested in photos of baby elephants (and who isn't) head on over to my facebook or flickr. Devoted partner and I are now proud owners of e-readers; he, a kindle, me, a nook. This has drastically changed the way we pack for trips as we no longer need to allocate 20 or so pounds for books. Prior to leaving for Corisca, I downloaded a pantsload of books to my nook so that the beach would not be boring. Consequently, we spent precious little time doing nothing on that trip, so my nook remained full. Part of this was my fault as I chose a 700+ page tome on the Algerian war which remained only half finished upon our return.

For this trip, I didn't need to add to my selections and, furthermore, the book I really wanted to read wasn't to be released until after we left. Sadly, the author's tour was also going to coincide with the trip and I would be unable to foolishly prostrate myself at the feet of my hero (devoted partner was less upset by this as I freely admit the carnal aspect of my hero worship).

So imagine my delight when, upon finally receiving internet access, I discovered the book was available for download. Oh, joy! I would be able to read the long-awaited novel whilst on the pristine beaches of Mauritius. But satisfaction delayed is often just as sweet, so I finished up with the Algerians first. Aside: yes, it was long, but A Savage War of Peace was also really really fascinating.

The sun was shining, I was in a new bright traffic cone orange bikini, and a man was bringing drinks to my deck chair. I was ready. Umberto, I come for you and your brilliant new novel, The Prague Cemetery.

For those who are possibly unaware, I own all of his books. Even the lengthy, of interest only to doctoral students of semiotics, philosophical tomes. I have read Foucault's Pendulum no fewer than 20 times. I even own a copy in Italian, a language I neither speak nor read. I am smitten by the kind of puppy love that only makes sense when it begins in adolescence. For his last book tour, I brought him chocolates and a 10-page, quite stalkerish letter (still waiting on a reply). My smitten is unwavering.

So, I cannot even begin to explain how devastated I was that this new book...oh god this is a steaming pile of, well I won't say excrement, discarded notes from all of his actually good books. Literally. As a reader of all of his books I could actually envision him going through old notebooks from 30 years ago and gathering up the stuff that wasn't good enough then and combining it to make this mostly unreadable novel. And not unreadable due to complexity or snotty vocabulary. Unreadable in its lack of plot, lack of character development, lack of interestingness, lack lack lack! The Prague Cemetery has none of the oomph. It feels so mailed in that I briefly wondered if it was a joke. A horrible joke perpetrated at my expense (narcissism, I know). I simply don't know what happened here.

The book is about the development of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which isn't a bad idea for a book. For the first 100 or so pages, one could almost imagine that there would be light at the end of the tunnel (that is if one were so enamoured with the author as to think he could do no wrong). The protagonist has no redeeming qualities, you don't care about him or his story, and you wonder where his mental diarrhea comes from and how it can be so uninteresting. And then it just goes on and on and on. The epitome of sound and fury signifying nothing. Furthermore, the virulent anti-semitism one would expect from a book on this subject just rang so hollow because you could tell Eco's heart wasn't in it. And, unlike Stephen Colbert, he couldn't amusingly fake opinions so radically different from his own.

Upon finishing, and I did finish, I was overwhelmed by feelings of WTF? Why did you write this book, Umberto? It didn't seem like you were interested or invested in it. It read lazily. And you're not lazy. You're meticulous and brainy. I know you're a little pissed off that a no-talent hack like Dan Brown made like he invented Templarian mysteries, but that doesn't mean you should start phoning in your own novels. I wait upon these new tomes of yours with baited breath. I mean have you seen what my other options are for reading these days? And, let's be honest, you don't have that many books left. Would you really be happy if this was the last work you left us?

I'm not going to go overboard and say this ruined our honeymoon and the reason is, it just wasn't significant enough to do anything but leave a bad taste in my mouth (which I washed out with rum). It just made me sad. After plowing through J. Maarten Troost's Life on Planet China and Too Close to the Sun, a biography of Denys Finch Hatton, I had to start on Name of the Rose just to get the taste of Prague Cemetery out of my mouth (rum-soaked though it was). I hope we can reconcile soon. A small book of your essays would help.

Everyone else: if a die-hard fangirl like me can find nothing good to say about this book, you should probably leave it on the shelf.

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