Review published on June 27, 2016.
I’m trying to widen the scope of my reading, including more works in translation, so I was keen to try this first novel by a German writer. The unnamed narrator is a philosopher who has taken up a post in New York where he is to work on a paper explaining the nature of consciousness. As he grapples with his project his mind is bombarded with thoughts and sensations, all of which distract him from his work. At the same time he has to decide whether his long-term relationship has any future.
I thought the premise was interesting and the scope of a book which attempted to explain consciousness in a hundred and fifty pages was definitely ambitious. But unfortunately I just couldn’t get to grips with the writing. I don’t know whether this is a result of the translation or just the style but the book plodded for me. The narrator explains every step he takes, every object he sees but in the plainest possible language. The blurb describes it as deadpan but I’m afraid I just found it dull. I think it is an attempt by the author to pare language back to its most basic elements as he tries to pare the nature of consciousness back to the most basic of thoughts but it didn’t work for me. It didn’t help that I found the main character selfish and unappealing.
Because the book is so short I persevered to the end and there are some moments of insight into the lies a couple tell each other to try and save a failing relationship but this was a rare fail for me. It may be that I just didn’t ‘get’ it and other readers would enjoy the book but I won’t be recommending it to my book group.
Rebecca Kershaw 2/2
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