I ordered the book from the library after reading a quotation from it somewhere on the internet. I don’t remember my source, which is probably just as well; I had also heard the author mentioned favorably, and thought I might as well take a look.
The book arrived and, as usual, I judged it by its cover. The front was unpreposessing and a trifle overdesigned, but that is not unusual for modern literary novels. The real difficulty, for me, began with a blurb:
Self-consciousness is one of the noblest literary virtues, especially as so exquisitely practiced by —— in ——.Shut up. I realize the purpose of literary reviews (and/or blurbs) is either: 1) personal/professional sniping/toadying, 2) to sell books; but who on earth wants to snuffle around any of the ‘literary virtues’ noble or not, on a Saturday?
The book looks at me and says, after rustling its pages: so, are you going to read me or what? There are people waiting for me…. I open the book. I read. A terribly self-conscious novel, about a terribly self-conscious female brooding about a terribly unself-conscious male. Emphasis: terribly. After twenty pages I cannot stop my eyes rolling heavenwards. A bitter cup of tea is meant to emphasize the emptiness and/or loneliness of the narrator’s life, a drop of finality in her emotional bucket, and nod to Proust, who, on the other side of the ether cuts the acknowledgment. It is the poor man’s Joan Didion, if such a thing were possible. Even so, Mr. Blurb-ist may be correct, and self-consciousness might be ‘one of the noblest literary virtues’, if literary virtues, like human ones, are very often dull. I look at the cover of the book. I look at some of the books I actually positively want to read (someday). Life is short – this book, not short enough.
* * *
I ask myself why the book exists, and am brought back, after much mental circumambulation, to the question that always makes me uncomfortable: why does any book exist? I don’t know – and I don’t like any of the answers I’ve seen. I like to think this is because I have not seen enough. Let’s hope so, shall we?