When I picked up this book in a train station WHSmith store, I did so with the intention of broadening my literary tastes. Naturally, I approached it with certain trepidation; after all, people are resistant to change.
When I opened this novel, however, I was greeted with something quite different from the expectations I’d formed in my mind. It is, quite definitely, a novel of this century, touching upon issues both economic and social that are relevant to modern life, and yet Perlman communicates his observations with grace. His prose flows effortlessly, breathing poetry into potentially mundane subjects, beguiling the reader at times when the plot fails to thrill. This, fortunately, is a rare occurrence, as the novel has seven narrators, each continuing their predecessor’s account, relieving much of the tedium when a particular voice starts to irk.
Perlman has received criticism for the apparent lack of ambiguity in relation to his narrators and their perceptions of events, and I have considered this carefully since finishing the book. Admittedly, there is a definite similarity in the tone of the seven parts, but I attribute this to the author’s style, which it cannot be argued, is imperative to a writer’s identity. But can that be the case in this situation, where the subject of ambiguity, the theme supposedly illustrated, is the very quality missing from Perlman’s characters? I suggest that the reader look deeper, closer at the characters, at their subtle differences. An acute observation reveals that the characters’ slightest difference in interpreting the events of the novel severely affect their outcomes. Here, Perlman is forcing the reader to work for their own meaning; he creates ambiguity by the very nature of his narrative structure.
The plot itself, whilst far fetched, is deeply moving and confrontational in its controversy and dubiety. The reader feels empathy towards characters with an implied lack of morals, and warmth towards initially likeable characters is tested. The kidnapping of a child, the central storyline, is both disturbing and infuriatingly beneficent in nature. This acts to enhance the reader’s experience, and challenge personal moral ideology in favour of general moral ambiguity.
If this book succeeds in reaching the reader, it does so in the following way; it can help open one’s mind to the existence of grey in a world of apparent black and white. Well written, moving and emotionally gruelling at times, Seven Types of Ambiguity is a beautiful account of contemporary life and the fragility of human beings, and their often fallible interpretations of truth.