Wednesday 27 May 2015

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

(May 2015)

I want to write more about this book. This book deserves to have more written about it. Unfortunately though I’ve had a ton of deadlines recently, so while I only read this a couple of weeks ago my mind’s been so cramped since then I’m not sure I’ve got much in the way of intelligent – or at the very least interesting – comment left to pass. No change there then, eh? (Etc, etc, and so forth.)

This is a shame, because if the last Pulitzer Prize winner I read left me a touch nonplussed, Oscar Wao is a whole different kettle of fish. It’s famous enough that I won’t belabour the plot synopsis or harp on about the grand themes and such – little new for me to add there, I think – but instead I’ll just note that it’s genuinely excellent: wise, erudite, and funny. God it’s funny; I can’t remember the last time I honestly laughed out loud so many times at a novel:

He wasn’t great at teaching. His heart wasn’t in it, and boys of all grades and dispositions shitted on him effusively.


…this was before the whitekids started their invasion, when you could walk the entire length of Upper Manhattan and see not a single yoga mat.

The narrative voice(s) is (/are) phenomenal, and the code-switching is a truly a thing of sublime bathetic beauty (“see not”), even if I’m not entirely convinced the obviously intentional dissonance of reading about some of the more hideously oppressive practices of the Trujillo regime in the voice of a swaggering New Jersey meathead quite comes off. The outright horrors come across very well (for want of a much, much better phrase), but the section relating the slow, inevitable undermining of a doctor’s entire family doesn’t quite feel best served by the narrative flippancy. Equally, while the ending is suitably Shakespearian, it is also undeniably abrupt, and I’m tempted to put this down to the difficulties of balancing being faithful to the characters against being faithful to the story.

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but there has to be a grain of truth in there somewhere, right? Either way, these are quibbles and this is a great book. Worth the hype.

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