2 1/2 stars.
This book has gotten really great reviews and was just longlisted for the Booker. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn't like it as much as I hoped I would. It's the third book I've read in the last three months dealing with Africa and the immigration experience. It was definitely the one that appealed to me the least.
I think it's going to be difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why, but here are some thoughts:
- After reading it, I would say that it's a collection of related short stories; the cover says it is "a novel." It is very disjunct, which was probably intentional--one of the major themes is the disjunct, fractured quality of the lives of narrator Darling and her friends and family. It's a clever device and she wins points from me for it, but...I don't usually like short stories all that much. A short story that I love is an exception. So the fact that this is basically short stories doesn't do much for me.
- Child narrator. It can be really tough to make this work, and in this case it often didn't. The past two years, the highest rating a book with a child narrator got from me has been 2.5 or 3 stars. In this case, we get a narrator who vomits when sorting bottles because stale beer smells bad, but also thought giving an 11 year old who got raped by her grandfather an abortion with a rusty coat hanger would be a great fun game. Eh... The tone has been called "original" or "fresh," but it seemed familiar to me. I agree that it's "realistic" in that the events are plausible; it likely gives a creditable depiction of a Zimbabwean childhood (I can't say for sure since I didn't grow up there). But it didn't really resonate with me; it didn't seem like I was seeing anything through the eyes of a child, and none of the characters were developed very well, which makes caring about them difficult.
- Hostility toward those with mental illnesses...
- I didn't feel much when reading this book besides annoyance and occasionally boredom. I just didn't find the writing all that effective.
I actually feel kind of guilty for not liking it because I was really expecting to and was hoping it would be as great as promised...