*Based off a free copy provided by Amazon – by it here
I was drawn to this both by the Hitchcockian blurb and the reviewer comparisons to Murakami, but when you make comparisons to two of the greatest, chances are you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Similarities to the film-maker and the author are lip service at best, and non-existant at worst. There are moments of course, but these are more from the overall plot and idea rather than anything specific in the contents. I’m sure there is an engaging plot here somewhere, but it’s so crushed under the weight of science, ideas, ideals, and pseudo-philosophical talk about nothing that you feel that you’re unwrapping a diamond ring style box only to find a ‘screw you’ sign inside.
The story opens with a man whose wife has lately vanished, but who has apparently been replaced by a loveless doppelgänger. Instances of the past relationship are seemingly just as loveless. Details dribble in concerning a plot which revolves around a good old fashioned crazy patient and a secret conspiracy-type quest. There is a journey, both literal and figurative, and eventually twists are revealed. It’s more a Cronenberg style approach showing a descent into madness through ploys and devices but it somehow feels even less engaging than this description.
Galchen is a clever woman- in fact she may be the smartest woman in the world, but most importantly she wants to tell us this. She has clearly spent at least 5 years in school learning things such as languages, sciences, and geography. Not many of us can say that. Under my cleverly veiled wit I’m sure some of you will have noticed that I’m making fun of the author’s approach- there is little or no attempt to hold a hand out to the reader and say ‘I’m in charge, follow me and I’ll reward you’. Rather, the approach is ‘ I am your teacher, I am better than you, what I am saying is Gospel (not that you’ll understand it) but it doesn’t matter anyway because you are an inferior sub-species’. So it seems.
The fact that this is written as a dissertation rather than a novel is what truly killed the experience for me. Each chapter has a cryptic teaser and usually a hypothesis, list or some other scientific device which has no place in a work of fiction. I kept reading, expecting this novelty to stop or at least make a positive impact, but with each passing page, with each deeper step into nowhere, I felt like I was back in the GSCE triple science room copying notes from a blurry overhead projector while a bored, suicidal, and probably drunk teacher read porn from behind steamed up glasses. If these memories spark a flame of desire in your soul, then by all means pick up this masterpiece and enjoy, or if you think you need more intelligent books in your collection then give it a go. For everyone else drawn to this for the same reasons that I was, there is no Hitchcockian suspense, wit, skill, or bravado, nor is there the gifted, lyrical storytelling or off-beat characters and bizarre fun of Murakami.