03 December 2011

Play it as it Lays, by Joan Didion

I had the whole day to myself yesterday, and I spent it reading. This book I picked up just as I was going to bed, and ended up reading the whole thing. Which is not to say that I loved it, but it does have a certain momentum, despite having very little plot.

I love Joan Didion's essays, so I was excited to try a novel. But this is not really my kind of book. If you like Bret Easton Ellis novels, you'll probably love this. If you like reading about rich people wandering aimlessly through their lives and shuddering through the death throes of their emotional lives, this is the book for you. It's one of those stories where a suicide attempt or other such self-destructive act serves to remind you that the character does have some kind of feelings. I'm not saying that to be snide - I think there is something impressive about novels like that, and they are often a really skillful portrayal of affect, or rather, its lack. You might argue that they are an investigation into what it means to be human, that takes a kind of extreme as its entry point, and I will totally grant you that there is something really interesting going on there. It's just that I just don't especially enjoy reading it, these days.

Didion is, however, an incredible writer. Like I said already, the book has momentum. The pacing is especially clever, with chapters ranging in length from a few pages to a paragraph. The language is unadorned but powerful. I was completely absorbed.

I guess the take away message here is, if you're going to read one 'emotionally-vacant-character-making-a-mess-of-herself' novel this year, it might as well be this one.

No comments: