Saturday, September 05, 2009
More Books I've read in 2009
Is it possible for a book to be too romantic? Before I read Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams I would have at least hesitated for a moment before reluctantly admitting the possibility. But now I answer with a resounding "Yea, verily, forsooth, it can indeed."
Four Letters comes with blurbs singing its praises, blurbs from the likes of The New York Times, Redbook, Men's Journal, The Boston Globe and Marianne Faithful. And they're right, it is "lush" "lyrical" "delicate" "graceful" and "sparkling." In spots. But then it gets ridiculously over the top. On page 202 the protagonist is spending the night with some people he just met. He is sleeping in the room of their daughter who hasn't lived there for some time:
"He turned in the covers and stirred up the perfume of the young girl's dreams. He thumped the pillow and let out without realising the tortured half-sleep of all the nights she had lain there blaming herself for what happened to her brother. Her guilt swirled in the air like a fine dust; it caught in his throat and he began a coughing fit."
You read that right; he can't sleep because he's choking on a big pile of old stale guilt. Believe it or not it gets better. The coughing leads to crying:
"He hushed himself and tried to swallow the gasps in case others heard him, not yet knowing that . . . the island air was glassy and sharp with sorrow. Men coming home from Coman's bowed and were struck by flying shards of it."
Don't you just hate it when you're walking home from the pub and get struck by a shard of sorrow?
I guess it goes to show what a glutton for punishment I am that I didn't fling this book into the fire but kept reading to the bitter end. Judging by the paucity of dialogue in this book I'll bet Mr. Williams has trouble writing it. And since we never ever see how the lovers meet -- heck, we never even see them together -- he evidently doubts his ability to write a convincing love scene. As do I. Those moments that should have been the heart of this novel are only recalled after the fact in long, overwrought letters that the boy writes to the girl and the girl's mother --- who obviously knows more about literature than the New York Times and Marianne Faithful -- burns. A young man who hasn't walked or spoken in many years is miraculously healed and starts hiking all over Ireland immediately as though there were no such thing as muscle atropy. Everything is resolved in one hurried paragraph on the last page, and it left me with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I'd been cheated.
Either that or a shard of sorrow just cut into me.