Thursday, December 10, 2009

book review - Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

Having done things back to front and read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close first you come to the debut from Foer with a sense of expectation.

On the one hand you expect to be wowed because this won so many plaudits but on the other you know that you are about to enter a highly stylised approach to telling a story that doesn’t always make reading easy.

Sadly for me there was a feeling far too much of the latter with the story weaving in-between the present and the past as the author tries to locate the physical location of his family’s history. He has a few scraps of information left that can help direct him to a Jewish world lost forever in the Second World War. There are moments when as he discovers that last remaining Jew and some of the experiences his relatives went through when the story has the power to move you.

But unfortunately there are far too many things that are just odd and because they echo throughout the story you either like them or don’t. On top of that there is the device used where the story unfolds through a series of letters from the interpreter used by the author to help in the search.

Some of the textual and typography playing around that is evident in Incredibly Loud is here, but not in the same degree. Where my real problem came was with the jumping around in time. It prevented you from ever really getting a chance to get under the skin of a character. So the reader is left with a significant portion of each characters story to develop in their own minds.

There is a story here and perhaps the pressure was to produce something memorable and different from similar types of tracking down relative accounts. The problem is of course that you can work too hard in making it different.

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