Continuing with my new-found lazy way of writing about books – here’s another 3-in-1. So let’s start off with…
This is my first ever Batman comic and supposedly an inspiration for The Dark Knight. And I have nothing specifically bad to say about it – or specifically good. It’s a fun enough distraction but nothing more. The one major complaint comes from the format really: initially it was serialized, each episode taking place on a different holiday and starting off with a little reminder of who everyone is and what happened to them last time. Which, when you read them all together, gets pretty grating and repetitive by the third story. But it’s a good character arc and an engaging mystery – and that’s more important I suppose.
I was surprised at how fun this was. From all the things I had read about it before, I expected it to be a dry (yet somewhat poetic) academic exercise – and it was anything but. It’s a book based on an ingenious gimmick, with every odd-numbered chapter told in the second person, addressing directly to the reader and with every even-numbered chapter a standalone story presented as part of whatever book the Reader is starting. It is a little disconcerting at first to see the act of reading deconstructed into every minute detail – the chair, the light, the drink the trip to the bathroom – but you’re soon enough emerged in this exercise. It’s the hunt for a book: the Reader starts a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler but soon discovers that after the first chapter the book binding is messed up and goes back to the library for another copy. From here on, he’s always directed towards another book which promises to be that very first one – and yet never is. Together with a Female Reader, they embark upon a meta journey through different tropes and literary genres, with every even-numbered chapter being, in fact, a pastiche.
I’ve been wanting to read this ever since I read Granta #81. Best of young British novelists – but it came as a bit of a disappointment. I liked it well enough, but it’s forgettable overall and I found that the element that initially drew me to it (a German immigrant, half-Jew, who gets the chance, as part of the British army, to interrogate Rudolf Hess) is in fact superfluous. We start off with this guy and his interrogation (which doesn’t really reveal anything) and end up in a remote Irish village where there’s a POW camp being built. The local atmosphere feels realistic and Esther and Karsten are well rounded characters but, by the time Rotheram (the immigrant) shows up again, you will have forgotten all about him. Mr. Davies reminded me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro in style – the calm and quiet of the characters, their resignation at going through life without rebelling, their sense of duty. Esther’s story is one of many small tragedies: raped by the boyfriend who will then leave the village, she ends up getting pregnant and being forced to keep the baby (she tried for an abortion, but the doctor refuses to perform it). She lies about the fatherhood – saying it was a boy from the village who’s presumed dead in the war and with whom everyone thought she had a relationship (although she had in fact refused his proposal and quite despised him) thus securing his mother’s help and the support and compassion of the whole village. It might be easy to judge her decision, and paint her as a bit of a villain – but at the end of the day, she’s doing really the best for her child. Rotheram shows up again at the end and wraps up the story neatly – he stops by in the village a few years later and relates Esther’s situation and one amongst many others, making even this last appearance useless, since this closure doesn’t, in fact, add anything to the story. The NYT reviewer though seemed to like this much more than me.