12 November 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

I feel like me and David Mitchell can't get our relationship off the ground. It's like we go on a date, and at first it's amazing and we're having a great time, and then it starts to get kind of meh, and by the end I really just wanna go home and not talk to this dude anymore. Then a few weeks later, I'm like oh yeah, that guy, he was kind of fun, and I call him again, and the same thing happens. Granted, I'm saying this on the basis of only two books, this one and Cloud Atlas, which I read awhile back, but I can feel it becoming a pattern.

The first two thirds of this book were fantastic. Mitchell clearly did a lot of research, and it shows, or rather, it doesn't - the historical milieu (Dutch traders in Japan in the 1790s) is convincingly evoked in what I suspect is highly accurate fashion, but in a subtle, not overly expository way. The characters are life-like, sympathetic, and believable. There's not too much going on in the way of plot, but you're enjoying being there, so you don't mind. But Mitchell wants to have a plot, so by golly, around page 300, the book rumbles to life and gets to work. Suddenly the perspective starts jumping around, and there's all kinds of excitement and intrigue and lots of complicated stuff to keep track of. You went from dinner date to dodgeball and you're not wearing the right shoes. On a different occasion, this could have been fun, but right now, you're not in the mood. By the end you really don't care who wins, you just want it to end. And right when you think it is, you're in the car, you're on the way home and suddenly he's like Oh wait let's just make one more quick stop... No goddamnit. Take me home. I'm done with this book.

This sounds really harsh, so I want to remind you that I did really love the first 2/3 of the book. It was awesome. 1790s Japan is a fascinating setting, and I do feel like I learned a lot more about it. I want to love David Mitchell, because a lot of his writing - like a good 70% - is fantastic. But the other 30% really isn't working for me.


Camilleon said...

Haven't read this and probably won't, but your review made me chuckle!

culture_vulture said...

Actually, you know what, you in particular might like it - it's got a lot of really interesting stuff about Japanese culture. I totally didn't mention that in the review. Ima go back and edit a little...
And seriously, it might just be me. I don't seem to like David Mitchell. But a lot of people - including a lot of people whose opinions in literature I generally agree with - love him.