The Idiot, Elif Batuman, Hardcover, 423pp, March 2017, Penguin Press
April 7, morning
I am starting this write-up even though I’ve only reached page 159 of this 423 page novel. I am starting this because I am vacillating between surrender to the love of language and literature radiant in Elif Batuman’s prose and the increasingly insistent voice in my head importuning with some irritation, “Quit now! Nothing is ever going to happen in this novel.”
So, I thought I would take a break to consider in writing how I’m feeling about this book, and use this deliberation and meditation to make my decision.
I confess, part of my exasperation with this book is its diary-like detailing of the daily, and although Elif Batuman’s limning of the quotidian is artful, often insightful, and sometimes amusing, thus far, it is a tale being told by an emotional idiot, full of tessellation and decoration, signifying nothing.
Too, full disclosure, the more of it I read, the more I think: Why can’t my blog be turned into a novel? I’m a prolix emotional idiot myself, who can easily spew prettily for 423 pages about nothing. So, this is where I am so far, this far, 159 pages far, into The Idiot.
April 8, morning
Well, here it is almost exactly 24 hours later and I have labored my way through the last 264 pages of The Idiot and I am a bit disgruntled and a lot dissatisfied.
I feel much like I do when I’ve spent an evening with a much-praised as charming and brilliant friend of a friend who I’ve found to be a rambling, self-centered, somewhat pretentious bore whose tedious, soporific blethering has left me unmoved.
I found all of the characters tiresome to infuriating, and never cared what happened to any of them. There really is no plot, or, at best, a smidgen’s worth which is padded out with faux-literary prosaicism, bloated to a length screaming for prodigious editing.
While some have called the last sentence heartbreaking, I found it to be cruelly mocking; we’ve spent 423 pages and for what? Perhaps I am the wrong audience for this novel, but all this flood of words — no matter how artful some of them are — about nineteen year old Selin and her obsession with the older Ivan, their ludicrous dance around each other, and the mostly obnoxious and all charm-free characters they interact with along the way, was too fragmented, too long, too literarily twee, too MFA-graduate program show-offy, and too over-blurbed and praised.
I wish I’d stopped at page 159. Or, page 50 where I first considered putting it down.