What better way to start than with a book I absolutely detested. (Obviously with a book I absolutely loved- but unfortunately this was the last book I read and I just need to vent about how bad it is!)
Not only is this book the most tedious drivel I have ever read, but it’s pretentious to boot. In a typically precious fashion, de Bernieres rehashes age old concepts as if they’re brand new. The book is astoundingly pompous considering the fact that its message essentially amounts to “war is bad”. It makes me wonder- does the author genuinely believe he is saying something unique? Oh, I suppose since he has a cat shitting in Mussolini’s helmet he thinks he’s redefining an entire genre.
That’s just one example of de Bernieres’ supposed wit. Again and again, the author believes he is being clever, but only succeeds in being annoying. At times, he is outright offensive. Take the moment when Carlo announces that “history is only written by the winners” (another age old concept). He then goes on to say that if the fascists won the war there would be “photographs of mass graves in the suburbs of London”. The implication here is subtle but clear: the authenticity of the holocaust is under question as “the winners” wrote the history books. Is that supposed to be clever? Does de Bernieres really need to use the deaths of millions of people in an attempt to seem deep and meaningful? It disgusts me that someone can use one of their characters, supposedly a hero, as a mouthpiece for this propagandistic garbage.
To be honest, I could leave the review there and that would be enough to explain my utter loathing for this book. After that point, I lost all respect for the author. But since I powered through the book, I may as well let you know about all its other failings.
Aside from being offensive, inconceivably dull and pretentious, it is virtually impossible to connect with any of it. I did not relate to the setting, characters or plot. The setting, though related in minute detail, never seems anything more than a colourless backdrop; the characters are poorly drawn and never amount to anything more than caricatures. The only figure that seems mildly interesting is the kindly old father, who is shunted to the side so that the reader may better “enjoy” a forced romance. Perhaps this is de Bernieres one and only success- he spends so much time convincing the reader how unbelievable this love is that it is no wonder that I simply did not believe in it.
De Bernieres is unrelenting with his “artistic” affectations. He uses multiple third person perspectives- much like George R R Martin- only he does it incredibly poorly. Unlike Martin, his pace is way off, and this only serves to create a jarring, fragmentary feel. When one examines the novel closely, the plot appears to be divided into three parts: the first is boring and pointless, leaving out the titular character to create “suspense”; the second part picks up a little and was the only time when I wasn’t blowing-my-brains-out-bored; but, alas, the third section ruins anything you might have liked.
As you can probably tell, I am really struggling to give this book credit for anything. The plus side is it got a range of emotions out of me; the downside is all of those emotions were negative. When it wasn’t boring me, it was irritating me, and when it wasn’t irritating me, it was angering me. The best thing I can say about it is that some parts are less boring than others.
Usually, if I read an acclaimed book that I don’t like, I can at least see something of value, some literary merit in it that I just didn’t relate to- but not in this case. I really don’t understand why so many people loved it. My only guess is that it’s a case of “the emperor’s new clothes”. I mean, why else would anyone say they enjoyed this? If anyone has any reasons please tell me- I genuinely want to know!
Rating: 0/5 bananas
*Spoilers* (don’t read on if you haven’t read this and want to read it- though I can’t imagine why you would…)
Ok, so I have to say it- what the hell was with the ending? Are you kidding me? It would have been bad enough if Corelli had never come back at all- but why on earth would you make him come back thirty years later? I am guessing this is just another attempt at being “deep and meaningful”- that love is so enduring blah blah blah- but no, just no. That is just not a satisfying ending; it sits uncomfortably between tragedy and comedy. It’s not like this untidiness makes any sense, especially considering the fact that de Bernieres conveniently ties up his other loose ends, having Mandras conveniently turn out to be an attempted rapist (I’m assuming the author just tags that on the end to justify Pelagia’s fickleness in retrospect). Gah- it’s nothing short of infuriating.