These days, when I want to know what other people think of a book, I go to Goodreads. Who should know books better than the people who aren’t paid to read them?
According to the novel synopsis posted on Goodreads:
Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.
Okay, Téa Obreht is a rockstar. Being an aspiring writer who is the same age as Ms. Obreht, I’ll admit I admire her accomplishments (did I say admire? I probably meant envy.) But, when I read her novel I was perplexed. Undoubtedly compromised by the petty tendency to compare myself to other writers, I couldn’t decide whether I liked her book or not.
I found myself reading several reviews of the book on Goodreads because I couldn’t decide what to think. In my research, I discovered that reviewers all seemed to come to similar conclusions and several themes and observations were touched on repeatedly that weren’t of the variation “It was great!” or “It was terrible!” Here’s a brief list of my own opinions that align with other opinions of this book.
1) I felt most connected to the story when the narration concerned the fables or folktales of “The Deathless Man” and “The Tiger’s Wife,” and the characterization of the narrator’s grandfather. Unfortunately, this stole attention from the main character and rendered her, in my opinion, unnecessary.
2) Descriptions were lovely and well crafted, but tedious, and I found myself skimming. Often.
3) I appreciated the structure and found the interweaving story lines interesting. However…
4) …because of the unnecessary amounts of description, the narration didn’t hold me and I checked out. This was an unfortunate result because when Obreht delicately ties up the plot at the end, I missed it (as did many other people). Obreht says in an interview with Jennifer Egan, “As a reader, I like to engage with work in a very active role. I don’t like things necessarily over-explained to me or 100 percent concrete. I like the idea of being free to answer the question myself.”
I like to answer the questions myself too, as long as I still care about the questions that the novel poses by the time I’ve reached the end of the book. I cared enough to finish this book, but not enough to reread it for the answers.
What I learned from reading Obreht’s work is that I admire her as a writer, and acknowledge that she is a writing-ninja, but you need more than beautiful sentences to make the book.