I came late to this book. Apparently, it was all the buzz back in 2014, when it was published, but I was reading other books, dealing with family, work, and personal crises, et cetera. Let’s face it, there are just Too Many Books. No one person can read them all, or even hear about every book that might be right up her alley.
Fortunately, really great books often have a long tail. People keep talking about them, reading them, passing them along to friends, family, and coworkers. They pop up over and over again in comments, on blogs, and recommended reading lists.
Despite all the hubbub, when I finally checked out the book, I knew absolutely nothing about it other than the title. The cover actually put me off for a bit, because I didn’t understand it. But, the other night, I finally cracked it open, and Lo. There was light. And it was good. Very, very good.
The storytelling is somewhat unconventional, in that it skips forward and back in time, and between points of view. This is by no means a criticism. In fact, I don’t think this would have been so gripping a story if had been told in a more conventional narrative. And the language. Oh, my, the gorgeous language.
Ms St. John Mandel is no lover of overwrought or purple prose. She simply has a fine ear for rhythm. She doesn’t browbeat the reader with obscure vocabulary, but wields simple language and common usage like a poet. There were so many passages that captured me, that I reread over and over, marveling and envious.
But these thoughts broke apart in his head and were replaced by strange fragments: This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air.
There was a reminder that the library was always seeking books, and that they paid in wine.
No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.
Or, I could quote the whole book, because it’s beautiful and moving and true, but that would spoil it for you. And that would be a tragedy.