ToBX Ozeki vs Hamid

Huzzah for books I like! After my sadness over the untimely ejection of The Luminaries I was very happy to read Judge Johnson’s piece today.

A Tale for the Time BeingI read Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meat (or Meats, as it has been retitled) over ten years ago. It is part of the reason I am a vegetarian. I loved it so much and read it twice, insisted on talking about it all the time…. Then promptly forgot about it until A Tale for the Time Being was released last year. I struggled with it at the start, finding Nao’s overly peppy voice irritating. (I am the first to admit that may be unfair since I am often overly peppy myself.) Then alter-ego Ruth the writer stepped in and things became more complicated and interesting and involved and I just fell in love with all sorts of things in Ozeki’s book. It kept me thinking and talking for days, just as My Year of Meats did when I was fifteen. As Judge Johnson puts it:

With its myriad of interworking pieces, it clicks together like a masterfully designed clockwork marvel. While at first seeming meandering in its philosophical, quantum scientific, and political tangents, the more I read the more I appreciated how intricately they were intertwined and interdependent. Ozeki writes, “Information is a lot like water; it’s hard to hold on to, and hard to keep from leaking away.” In A Tale for the Time Being, it does leak. But it also pools, and starts to feel like an ocean.

I think that’s a wonderful description of what makes A Tale for the Time Being so great but then I also agree with John Warner who disagrees with the clockwork and instead finds that it ‘feels much freer and messier to me—in a good way—but what I think it illustrates is the powers of a novelist who has earned the trust of her reader’. I think that’s really accurate as well. Either way I have nothing to add.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaConversely, I intensely disliked How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. I went into it full of hope for the second person voice and the self-help book form. I even liked those things about it for a while. Kevin Guilfoile mentions the ‘bad reviewer’ fallacy of wishing a story had been written differently rather than evaluating it on its own terms. I hope I’m not falling into that trap when I say that I think Hamid did not fulfil the promise of his own schtick. What worked quite well at first (drawing a single life from a broader range of possibilities) eventually felt like it was being squeezed into the wrong format as the ‘chapters’ became more and more specific and yet more and more tangential to the actual story.Ultimately I don’t think the self-help book angle added much to the story and it only highlighted what could have added more richness and difference to a fairly simple story.

Anyway that’s my ten cents. Now I’m off to cram The Tuner of Silences for Monday’s matchup. I’m a third of the way through and rooting for it so far…

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