This Clown is Not Funny
I no longer believe that I have to finish every book I pick up and start reading. As I’ve matured as a reader I have given myself permission to say “this sucks. I shall let it crowd my brainspace no more.” On the other hand, I do have a certain faith in “medicinal reading,” that text or reading activity that might not bring instantaneous pleasure, but is good for you in the long run. Maybe “reading exercise” is the better metaphor: if I build up my reading muscles during the encounter with difficult texts that, nonetheless, offer interesting construction, forms and ideas for me to contend with, then I will be better equipped to handle all manner of literature that comes my way.
Even though I wanted to headslap Mordechai Richler and his obnoxious Duddy Kravitz, I continued to read. It’s a classic, a foundational Canadian and Jewish literary text that has preoccupied a lot of authors since it was first written. So I didn’t put it down, though a good portion of me wanted to. Now I find myself listening to The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg and, 6 discs into the audiobook, wonder if I haven’t gone too far to give up. The reviewers over at Bookslut found this book “impenetrable,” which I don’t think it is. And I understand (from Wikipedia) that Danish literary critic Poul Behrendt just thinks contemporary reviewers (and readers) are too dimwitted to understand it. I don’t think that is quite the picture, either. The non-linear plot, the protagonist who is not only unreliable but also unlovable and undefinable, and–fundamentally–the author’s indecision as to whether this is a book about music or a book about clowns and the carnival–make this a pretty unrewarding slog. The plot, such as it is, appears rather interesting: flawed hero rescues kids in danger. But the superstructure around the protagonist and his struggles completely overwhelms the book. And if the book is, in fact, supposed to be about that superstructure–music, clown-i-ness–then both of those are . . . well. . . .not convincing me. One or the other, developed consistently throughout the book, cleverly interwoven into the plot, as he attempts to do with both (inconsistently) would work, I think.
I don’t thin The Quiet Girl is unsatisfying because it is post-modern, or because I’m a bad reader. I think it is unsatisfying because, with its complex structure and intertextuality, it promises me more than it can deliver. Unfortunately, I DO want to know if he rescues the kids, so I’ll continue to listen on my ride home.