By Tom McCarthy
Publisher: Alma Books Ltd
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Undoubtedly one of the maddest books I've ever read. It sort of reminds you of "The Truman Show" or all the movies-within-movies structures only turned inside out, if this description makes any sense. But essentially it's impossible to compare it to any established title or genre. It pursues its very own crazy idea and goes by its own rules, and does all that with a ferocity and relentlessness that bewilders, delights and even enrages.
The main character, whose name we never learned, suffers from some kind of trauma and gets a huge compensation. This is probably the only fully comprehensible and definable premise of the book. From there on, he goes on to capture something lost to him by unimaginable means. In the first 100 pages or so, during which the author set the stage quickly and drew us into the unique world of the protagonist, you can't help but be dazzled by the sublimely perceptive eye and wonderfully descriptive pen of McCarthy. Through a hero that's not particularly balanced in the head and articulate with words, he managed to recreate a very vivid mental state in which the hero finds himself and give us exact ideas of what he sees and craves. In turns funny, intriguing, brilliantly observant and humane, this part of the book is solid 5-star material. Up until the first undertaking of the hero, something perfectly harmless yet so crazy it scares you, I find myself tightly bound to this dream-like, almost otherworldly narrative. Absolutely riveting. But sadly it goes downhill from there.
In the remaining two-thirds of the book, the story only gets crazier and crazier, it's not that exploring the fully improbable is in itself a fault, but all these efforts ("re-enactments") of the protagonist get repetitive, stale and meaningless quickly. You know they are not meaningless to the guy ordering them but getting stuck in the middle of it is not the most enjoyable reading experience. You start to lose any connection you may have to the character and can get pretty provoked by the preposterous plot. By the last 100 pages or so, I was sure this book has lost me, to some extent irredeemably.
The ending is quite powerful, though. By finally letting the infuriating half-real world of the protagonist to collide with reality and confronting him with some "normal" perspectives, the incredible cruelty of the experiment and the human frailty on display are pretty shocking to watch.
In all, this is a one-of-a-kind story on perception, reality and the very core of the human experience. It's wildly ambitious, inventive and audacious, but can prove to be quite a drill for readers with a milder taste and a preference for coherent narratives.
Tony Su said on May 18, 2011, 14:42