9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Honest with Me,
This review is from: Self Help (Hardcover)
Gabriel Glover lives in London and struggles to hold together a self help magazine he despises, basically writing most of the copy and doing the design work himself given his incompetent lazy staff. One night Gabriel receives a distressing phone call from his mother Masha who lives in St Petersburg. She presses upon him metaphysical advice and laments the demise of people's ability to inhabit themselves fully. Bothered by the worrisome sound of her voice and her bouts of coughing, he races to Russia only to find her dead in her apartment. Gabriel and his twin sister Isabella search throughout this novel to discover who their mother really was and, more pressingly, who they are themselves. Amidst their quest, their despised philandering father Nicholas must admit some secrets which both he and Masha carefully withheld from their children. Masha's illegitimate son Arkady holds the key to breaking the silence between the father and his grieving children. The pessimistic Arkady is searching to find some way to finance his musical education and wants to see if the Glover relatives who he's never met will help him. He is a gifted pianist that has seen his talent squandered in the shifting gears of Russia's transforming political system. Even more committed to Arkady's education is his friend Henry who is a teacher with an unfortunate drug habit. In the last hundred pages of this sprawling novel, the strands of these characters' stories come together to unearth some surprising revelations and a heart-breaking climax.
Docx has produced a powerful family novel teeming with rich ideas and universal themes concerning identity, loss and social/familial dislocation. Each character is explored in depth and with great sympathy. Nicholas' psychology and relationship with his young male lover who schemes to get a steady allowance from the older man is complexly drawn. Henry sees his resources dwindling in his struggle to assist Arkady and kick his drug addiction. His slow downward spiral is written in a way that feels harrowing and true. However, this portion of the story seems glued on to the larger narrative about this family's struggle to reunite and discover how they fit together. This is a difficult novel which yields many great rewards, but the story can be a bit unwieldy in its focus at times. One of Docx's greatest talents is for describing the numerous cities this novel travels through over the course of the story. St Petersburg, Paris, London and New York are all vividly evoked in rich sensual detail giving real character to the places and making them physically real. More than that, he holds up a reflection of the values and sensibility of Russia compared to the West. Docx has many intelligent and heartfelt things to say about the responsibility we have to accept ourselves fully. While Self Help isn't meant to be prescriptive, it does give you a lot to think about.