by Denis Thériault
Although this was an easy read (100 pages, simple language) it is a long time since I have felt so disinclined to read something. Selected by our book group, I had some difficulty getting hold of a copy of the book, as it was not available on Kindle and nor was there a copy in our library, except as an ebook. So I downloaded the ebook and the app for reading it on my phone, having decided eventually that I didn’t want to configure my laptop for reading just this one book or acquire a bunch of dubious software for converting it to Kindle format. Perhaps the constraint of reading on a small screen predisposed me to dislike the book.
It’s neatly written, with crisp, clear prose and a careful translation. There are spots of humour, and some delightful haiku and tanka poetry (along with a certain amount of information about what these forms are, and how they work). The story is written as if it were a fable, and indeed, the ending is particularly fabulous.
I think that the author constrains his story to fit the pattern of his narrative, and also to keep it within the confines of a fable. The secondary characters are ill-formed, and the main character, Bilodo, is extremely annoying. There are many loose ends to the narrative – how can Bilodo afford to continue renting two flats and at the same time take six months’ unpaid leave from a low-paid job? Why does he only take one day off work when both his parents are killed in an accident (and why are these parents not mentioned anywhere else in the narrative)? Why does he consider Robert to be his only friend when, even early on in their relationship, he sees the man to be manipulative and bullying?
There seem to be no positive aspects to Bilodo’s character that the reader can latch onto and identify with. The author is a psychologist, and no doubt wanted to explore the way some people live out their lives in fantasy. The relationship between Robert and Bilodo is also an exploration of a bullying relationship between adults. Tanya’s response to Bilodo is hard to fathom, especially when she comes back to him after her humiliation, and unknowingly rescues him from his planned suicide. She seems less shocked than one might suppose by his unkempt appearance and apparent transformation into his predecessor, Grandpré. Perhaps she really loves him, and love conquers all. I am not convinced.
Grandpré’s name was also somewhat annoying. I couldn’t help thinking of him as ‘grandpère’, and imagining a grandpa figure. Maybe this was the author’s intention. It is he, after all, whose writing and lifestyle in equal measure guide Bilodo on his new route in life.
I am pleased to have got to the end of this little book within a couple of short sittings, and not to have to waste more time on it. To add insult to injury, the book group member who recommended it has now left the group, and won’t be present when we discuss her book choice next week!