Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nicole Krauss: Man Walks Into A Room

I've honestly never heard of Nicole Krauss, and picked up the book just for that reason: who is this unknown chick-lit author? Not that I borrow chick-lit just for the sake of the genre, mind - I have a few favourites, I admit, but it's not, on the whole, my thing. I have, for example, NOT read Sophie Kinsella. However, this is not chick-lit, it just looks like it at first glance, with its blue and fluffy cover. Krauss has been shortlisted for a few book awards and is generally quite acclaimed I believe.

This novel is about Samson Greene, who disappears from his New York home and is found wandering the desert in Nevada, his mind a blank, literally. Turns out that Samson has a brain tumour, the pressure of which suddenly became critical and caused a form of total amnesia. And when the tumour is removed Samson can remember nothing that has happened to him after the age of twelve. He is not a boy trapped in a man's body though, he is still a man of thirty-six, but he can't remember his wife, his job, his education, his friends, that his mother has died - nothing. Shaving feels odd and he's not sure if he can drive. This odd loss of memory leads him to want to relinquish his old, unremembered, life, and when an LA neurospecialist and researcher rings him to ask for him to participate in some ground-breaking research on memory transference, he agrees. There, I've told you a fair bit of the plot now, more than the cover did I think. The cover ends with telling me that "what he gains is nothing short of the revelation of what it is to be a human being" - you don't get depth like that from me, now.

This is not at all a bad book. It's well written, by an author that cares. Yet it leaves me strangely cold, and I'm struggling to pinpoint why. I remember reading an article somewhere about the abundance of authors these days who learned their craft in creative writing classes, and the article bemoaned the similarity in all these writing styles that was the consequence. Now, I'm not educated enough to detect anything like that, but I was struck by a similar sense of déja vu-ishness when reading this. As though I'd read this kind of prose a million times before, and this kind of theme too. (As a matter of fact the amnesia idea is not dissimilar from Mil Millington's Instructions for Leading Someone Else's Life, really. No other comparisons should be drawn though. Krauss is more in the vein of Ian McEwan, I'd say.) Somehow I don't really grow to care about any of the characters. I will admit that I shed a tear at some point, I think when Samson learns of his mother's death, and it's as raw to him as if it had happened five minutes ago. I thought it was sad. But somehow not so much Samson's grief, as the general idea of grief, if you see what I mean. I don't understand why the characters act the way they do - I can see this being filmed, and myself, watching the film, shouting at the more and more estranged Samson and wife to BLOODY TALK TO EACH OTHER ALREADY. As if I were the virtous paragon of exemplary spousehood. In short, I'm just not sucked in. I'm just not that into it. Also, I was super-annoyed at Samson talking to his doctor about cloning, and mentioning an idea he's just had that in the future everyone will have a spare living on a farm somewhere, to be called into service for organs if something happens to the original. Fair enough that the idea is original to Samson, who has lost twenty-four years of memories, but that the doctor hasn't heard of this very popular science fiction theme is a bit silly.

There are some great scenes in this book, but on the whole it's not that memorable (ha ha) for me. Admittedly it's books like these that I'd like to discuss, because I think I'd get a lot out of hearing what someone else, who maybe loves it, thinks.

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