Everything is Illuminated – review

Everything is IlluminatedYou know, I think I’m going to have to stop reading literature for a while. For shame.

I finally finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything is Illuminated. This book started out very well for me: I really enjoyed the different perspectives it was written from (letters from the protagonist, Alex, to ‘Jonathan’; dialogue between the three main characters, Alex, Jonathon and Alex’s grandfather; and historical narratives spanning hundreds of years), and I got such a thrill from Alex’s wonderful use of Thesaurus English. It was ambitious and interesting, and I was impressed that someone so young achieved such a diverse work of fiction.

And then I got to page 200, and I realised that I had another hundred pages to go. I’d already had enough at that stage, and I was finding keeping up with the changing rhythm laborious. I wasn’t learning anything new from the narrative, and the frequent unpunctuated passages were becoming sore on my eyes. I ended up skipping through most of the last third, only stopping long enough to ‘get the jist’, just so I would reach the end. I did eventually, and my unfortunate response to that was relief rather than pleasure. Oh well.

Edited to add: I realised when I thought about it last night that this didn’t become a review of a book so much as a testament to my general frustration with literature. So here’s the ‘review’.

Everything is Illuminated spans about 500 years of Ukranian history, culminating in the Nazi invasion during the second world war. However [in]accurate the portrayal, it was interesting to read about a place not generally found in literature. I really enjoyed the story of Yankel and Brod from hundreds of years ago, and the more recent character, Safran, was certainly engaging, but I couldn’t help but feel that the Jewish stereotypes were shamelessly overplayed for little effect. It’s an easy trap to fall into, I suppose. And perhaps it’s even easier to get carried away when so much detail and information is being included in one book.

Before I read this book, I was told that it would take me on a roller-coaster ride of intensity and self-reflection. Alas, it did not. It did make me very bored, though, I can tell you.

I’m currently struggling to get to the end of The Dice Man, too, because I’m having the same problem: it just won’t stop.

The reason I’m citing for all of this: thesis-writing. When you’re trying to write a volume of 100,000 words, without using a single word more than you should (never mind whole sentences or paragraphs), it gets difficult to be bothered with tomes that seem to go on for miles more than they need to. I’m going to have to figure out what to do about this, because it would break my heart to be without my books at the moment. Or at any time, for that matter.

12 responses to “Everything is Illuminated – review

  1. I’ve started resenting my proper literature because of the guilt I feel for reading when I should be studying. I’m sure that’s the most typical student thing ever, but I have a pile of half-finished books I can’t even look at because I know that my time belongs to Arabic verbs or some other nonsense. Argh!

  2. Oh, I hope that never happens to me! If I start feeling guilty about literature, then what’s next? Sleeping? Sex (hell, I’m Catholic so I feel guilty about that already)? Drinking tea?

    Perish the thought!

  3. i hated the Dice Man. I stopped reading just after he raped his neighbour… it just went too far. I realise that this is what the whole book is about, pushing your boundaries but i just thought it was un-necessary!

    i’ve just finished The Woman in White though and it was fab!

  4. Maybe it’s time to read some fluffy detective novel. I love those for getting my spirits up. They only take a little bit more than a day to get through – and the bad guy always gets caught 🙂

  5. Pink, I was rather shocked when that happened so soon in the book. I had heard about that part and assumed that his dice-playing culminated in that, rather than started with that. It was shocking, but I have to say that such a high impact start intrigued me.

    Frankly, now, however, both he and his dice-playing are getting a little tired for me.

    Venting, that is exactly what I’m doing now. I’m reading a Raymond Chandler. 🙂

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