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Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman

March 9, 2014


I read a lot of books. I am also a fairly timid book reviewer. It is rare for me to give a book a resounding 5/5 because I save that honor for the precious few that I love. On the other end of the spectrum there is rarely a book that I flat out dislike. Every book that I’ve come across has some redeeming feature, otherwise I just don’t finish it (I’m looking at you Rum Diaries). But for the first time on this blog, and for the first time in a long while, I’m going to openly come out and say that I did not enjoy a book. Ready? I did not at all enjoy Seven Types of Ambiguity. At all. Maybe if you really liked books like Foucault’s Pendulum or The Discovery of Heaven where the author creates characters who talk about philosophy as an excuse to show off how much they know, you’d like this book. But it was not for me.

Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman has so many things I want to like: it’s by the author who wrote The Street Sweeper, one of my all time favorite books; it’s set in Melbourne, the city that I live in;  there is a change in narration at every chapter, something that makes some books even better than they could have been otherwise, like A Visit from the Goon Squad; and the opening narration is so powerful and awesome that I read the first page and I was hooked. I had actually been waiting for a new book I bought to download onto my iPad, and as a diversion I read the first few pages of this book. I decided on the spot that I would wait on that other book because this one promised to be good. And it was; until the first chapter was over.

I’ll just give it away now: this book is about divorce. In a general sense it’s about relationships, unrequited love, breakups, and friendships, but it reads like a list of reasons not to get married. The main character is Simon, a man who I think we’re all supposed to sympathize with, since his story is only told by people who love him and paint him in a flattering light. But he does something so foolish and awful – kidnapping the son of his ex-girlfriend who broke up with him 10 years before – that I don’t think any sugar coating on the author’s part could have made me actually like him. The rest of the book follows the consequences of that action and how it unraveled all the unhappy relationships that everyone seemed to be in.

Marriage gets a very bad rap in this book. I’ve never been married, so I don’t know how fantastic or awful it is. And even if I was married I would still have no sense of the average happiness of all marriages. This book doesn’t contain a single functioning married relationship and I found that to be a little biased. All of the main characters are unhappily married, and all of their parents are unhappily married, and my guess is that had there been more chapters, their children would all be unhappily married, too. It’s bleak. It seems like more than a pessimist’s view of the world; it seems like a recently divorced person’s view of the world. I was a little underwhelmed at the narrow perspective. I suppose my perspective is equally narrow, as I have very few nice things to say about this book.

I will finish this post with a bit of praise, though. This book did stick with me after I had finished it, and in the weeks after I had moved on to other books, I found myself actually thinking back fondly about this book. I supposed the best thing to compare it to is cough syrup. It tasted absolutely terrible going down, but when it’s over you’re left with a sweet aftertaste that makes you think that it wasn’t as bad as you remember. Going back over it to write this post, I realize it was as bad as I remember, but there was something about the book as a whole that really stuck with me and made me think. It’s an unconventional subject and the way it was told was pretty good. I still wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, but if you do end up reading it maybe you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Final note: this book wasn’t great, but if you’re looking for a recommendation, look no further than Perlman’s other book The Street Sweeper I have only good things to say about that book and it blew me away. Maybe I’ll get around to reviewing it one of these days.



From → Fiction

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