Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: Whether there is anything that redeems us

“What is it about men that makes women so lonely?”

The voices created by Eliot Perlman’s The Seven Types of Ambiguity each ring out from a unique perspective, like various camera angles capturing all the details of a movie whose main protagonist is Simon Heywood, an out of work teacher struggling with depression. The novel begins with a letter from Simon’s psychologist to the obsession of Simon’s life, a married woman named Nina Geraghty, and within a few short paragraphs, we’re pulled in entirely to the drama unfolding around the seven characters whose voices make up the sections of this book.

It’s difficult to say which is more of a delight when reading this book – the voices, or the style of writing that renders them. The novel is written in a lyrical, not-quite-stream of conscious style, in which each character might as well be sitting across from you at a diner, shooting you straight about everything that happened. Lately, I’ve felt like this style is a growing trend in modern novels, but I have yet to read another work that better employs a hundred-thoughts-a-second storytelling to convey a complex story in a very matter of fact fashion. Not once did I feel like I was wading through a character’s bullshit – indeed with every line, I hungered for more of the character to spill out onto the page. This style allows Perlman to leave nothing on the table regarding each character whose unabashed perspective he creates – we summarily fall in love with each one, even if we hate them for what they’ve done to each other.

Themes in this book range from the pedestalling of the unattainable objects of our obsession to the inherent foibles of parenting and education, but ultimately, Perlman simply captures the power of the flaws in each of us, the myths we create and the effects they have upon our lives. The result is a novel steeped in utter honesty and delightful pieces of writing (“Have you ever expatiated on a particular experience to give a new acquaintance the impression of instant intimacy? It’s not an uncommon form of flattery.”) that I continue to use as a benchmark against similar styles.


Salvatore said...

Is this book really 700 pages long as Amazon tells me?

Nihal said...

Yes but ooooooh BOY does it fly by - it'll be over before you realize it! (and you'll be sad)