This novel is so rich and so full of beauty I don't even know where to begin. I'll start my saying that Raymond has mastered the English language. I found myself reading and re-reading the same line over and over again sometimes not being able to continue the book until the poetry of a certain line would sink in. Raymond uses even the simplest phrases in the most elegant ways and I found myself recalling his exact words days and even weeks after reading them.
OK, three words... location, location, location! Raymond uses such incredibly beautiful descriptions. The setting comes alive in this novel like no other book I've ever read. As a reader you feel it, you hear it, you smell it and you taste it as if you're there. I am in awe that this is a debut novel. After reading the first few chapters I had to look Raymond up to see if he wasn't some famous naturalist. I felt as if I was reading the journal of an early scientist exploring the Northwest Territory. It seems that Mr. Raymond knows every bird, plant, weed and stone in Oregon by name and yet he describes them to the reader in almost childlike simplicity. My theory has always been that if someone really knows something well, then they can describe it and make it understood even to a child. To me, Raymond knows Oregon like the back of his hand and I used to live there. They should make this novel mandatory reading for all Pacific Northwesterners so they can appreciate the beauty and the mystery of the region.
Then there's the cooking... Did you ever see the movie "Like Water for Chocolate"? I felt like I was reading a written sequel. I must have gained five pounds just reading it. The cooking scenes are fantastic and made my mouth water and my eyes burn.
Besides all that, the novel is haunting. I have no idea what the reviewers below are talking about by "lack of character development". Did we read the same book? Did you get through the first two pages or did your short little attention span get the better of you again? This novel is packed full of the most incredible characters. Simple, yet profound Neil, volatile Trixie Voltera, Tina the lost girl, the young romantic dreamer Henry, the serious and mysterious King Lu and Cookie! What about Cookie? Seriously, were you reading the same book as me? Cookie is the first time since reading "Giovann's Room" that I absolutely fell in love with a character! This is possibly the gentlest and most Zen character ever written!
OK, then the ending. First let me say that I love David Mitchell, but I get down on him for always wrapping his books into neat little packages in the end. Sorry David, but that's not doing it for me. Life is complex and so is "The Half Life". It always seems to me like Mitchell is trying to be Murakami in a way but with happy endings. Raymond perfectly captures the complexities of life and the struggle we all share for closeness and contact but to me it appears as if he wasn't even trying which is a sure sign that he was. The book and the ending definitely have a Eastern feel which brings Murakami to mind but the comparisons stop there. "The Half Life" is to me a completely unique book which stands by itself. Raymond fuses what must be an incredibly diverse background in history, natural sciences, English, film making and a little partying in the Northwest with a deceptively simple style and the heart of a poet and naturalist.
If you like:
or if you live in the Pacific Northwest or if you like incredibly rich love stories that aren't what they appear,
THEN BUY THIS BOOK!