Customer Review

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars (3.5*) What does it mean to be a man?, 29 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Blasphemer (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Other reviewers have already discussed the plot so I won't repeat that: this is undoubtedly, as others have said, an intelligent novel which engages with big themes: most prominent are the issue of religious faith vs. scientific knowledge, and the interrogation of what it means to be a man. One of the problems, however, for me, was that the two themes remain separate rather than ever fusing and so the book felt unbalanced and a little episodic rather than becoming an organic whole.

For me this is overwhelmingly a book about masculine experience: about war, about the bonds between men whether father-son relationships, male friendships or male rivalry. When I say it asks questions about what it means to be a man I mean that quite literally: this seems a very gendered narrative that probes masculinity not humanity. So Daniel compares himself, for example, to other people who `act like a man' in a crisis; Nancy accuses him of not being `a man'; his father berates himself for not having taught him `how to be a man'; Daniel also watches a TV programme of a sperm swimming to fertilise an egg and equates it to himself swimming after the plane crash. The margins of masculinity are also questioned in the figures of Dan's gay best friend who has the physique of a macho rugby player; and the effemininity of his heroic grandfather who wears silk underwear and dresses up as a woman. In the text to show courage is, literally, `to be a man': and perhaps this is one of the reasons that Nancy's experience during the crisis is not explored.

This is all really interesting stuff (if not exactly original) but it sits rather oddly with the debate about religion vs. Darwinism and the scattering throughout the narrative of possible religious visions of guardian angels. And the Muslim terrorism plot just seems added in because any intelligent contemporary novel can't avoid it.

Overall I found this quite an uneven and sometimes erratic read: the beginning, as others have remarked, is stilted and awkward with very unnatural dialogue. The cramming together of all the plotlines is also somewhat clumsy and there are gaps and holes in the narrative as if chunks have been cut out in order to fit a word limit. Characters, too, are not always coherent: Wetherby doesn't sound like an academic born in 1960 and the tired cliché of professor exploiting the sexual naivete of students is overworked. The 8-year old daughter also sounds all wrong for a child, and the product placement very irritating (no-one answers a phone, only an iphone). The academic milieu is also laughably inaccurate. And I seriously doubted Daniel's intelligence when he applies Darwinian theory to the evolution of social and cultural institutions. The ending feels very hurried and left me feeling unsatisfied, perhaps because there's just too much going on and it all suddenly rushes to a close.

But despite all my caveats this is an interesting and intelligent read even if it is not a completely coherent one. I suspect it would have been better with another good edit with a ruthless red pen, and simplifying the narrative strands would have led to a more unified text. But still thought-provoking and definitely worth a read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 


Review Details

Item

4.3 out of 5 stars (126 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (73)
4 star:
 (22)
3 star:
 (23)
2 star:
 (6)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
Used & New from: £0.01
Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: London

Top Reviewer Ranking: 60