Top critical review
21 people found this helpful
A Tiresome Collection of Minutia; Didn't Work For Me
on January 28, 2013
I ordered this novel from Amazon by virtue of its near unanimous five star review status. After having read the work in its entirety, I must admit to being somewhat mystified by the accolades showered upon it. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate it or find it unreadable, but neither would I include it on my list of 500 greatest books either.
The book consists of many very short chapters, each such chapter taking as its theme a room or location in an apartment building in Paris. Each chapter begins with a detailed description of the furniture, the wall coverings, the floor coverings, fabrics, knick-knacks, curios, paintings, inhabitants, what they are wearing and what they had for lunch. These descriptions sometimes extend for pages at a time. One involved the entire contents of a pantry, describing each can of food, its color, cover design and contents. Really?
Periodically, after "setting the stage", a fascinating story ensues. Sometimes it doesn't. Over the course of the novel, many of the key players are reintroduced, but it may be difficult to remember a minor character introduced 75 pages ago in a four page chapter. One reviewer confessed to keeping a notebook in order to remember the characters. I didn't keep a notebook, hence my failure to maintain any continuity with some of the inhabitants of the building.
There are many fine and well told tales contained in this novel, however, the sometimes mind numbing level of descriptive detail, which make up a significant portion of the book, dilutes the effect of the tales, both with respect to the word count as well as the impact of the prose.
If forced to read every word of this novel, I would likely have ditched it mid-way through. However, the paragraphs of seemingly never ending picayune descriptions are easily identified and usually occur at the beginning of each chapter. When confronted with three paragraphs of detailed descriptions of every carving contained in a curio case, I simply scanned forward to the conclusion of the exercise and was often rewarded with captivating reading for the remainder of the chapter. Again, sometimes not.
I feel the need to point out that I am not by nature a contrarian. I don't seek out universally well beloved works and trash them as a matter of course. However, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine what it is about this collection of minutia that has garnered such near unanimous accolades.