"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, March 29, 2014

'Everything is Illuminated' in Book Clubs

Everything Is IlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book club became downright wild this week.

We discussed Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated. At one point I asserted the following: "Part of my difficulty getting into this book was the author's excessive use of devices--the constant switching of narrative voices, chapters where punctuation is done away with, the page and a half where he repeats the phrase "We are writing..." over and over. His indulgent use of stylized proze distracted from my ability to connect with the characters."

My two cents flung onto the reading club's table, several people nodded. Then, from directly across the table, a lady looked me in the eyes and in a reserved yet non-apologetic tone said, "Actually, I did not find the characters at all compelling. So the author's use of narrative devices was what interested me the most." As her two cents came to rest upon--no, to smother--my two cents, I nodded politely.

Like I said, book club became downright wild as we discussed Everything is Illuminated.

This novel is a perfect selection for a book club, inciting a wide range of reactions. Our club's discussion resulted in delicious disagreements, but also some vindication all around. Our reactions were various, but none of us reacted alone. For me, and I suspect for others, the realization that I was not the only one who found the book frustrating and inaccessible provided relief.

Everything is Illuminated is a novel about searching out one's roots, about uncovering family secrets, and about realizing one's destiny. This is also a novel about shedding light on horrific periods of history. At its most personable, the book depicts two similar minds nitpicking over details and perspective. These themes are tried and true, yet none of them are guaranteed to move and inspire.

Perhaps this is a masterful novel that I was not in mood for. Perhaps, as I asserted at book club, this is a so-so novel gilded with excessively stylized prose. Either way, the chance to mull over my reaction in person with other thoughtful readers made the whole experience worth it. As a matter of fact, that is one of the main ideas depicted in Everything is Illuminated.

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