Top critical review
One person found this helpful
on 5 November 2012
A 30 something father is discontented with his life and reignites when he spots a female childhood friend at a book fair. He begins writing to her and this is indeed that quaint thing a book of letters, rendered a bit of a curio these days with email, instant messaging and the like. So first we have 200 pages of his overwrought angst since he doesn't actually meet her in the flesh throughout the vast majority of this. She does reply but since we don't see her responses he is basically writing into a vacuum as far as the reader is concerned. There is no limit on his emotions through being bounded by a second person, it's largely him talking to himself. And he is not a very likable person accordingly, seeming somewhat self-obsessed and indulgent.
The book moves on when they finally do meet and although it is largely a sex scene, it's done in a very affecting way that utterly reveals both characters through it.
Then we have the woman's responses, also in a monologue form of a journal. There are several ways for the author to have attacked this. Does the timeline of her journal match that of his letters? No, it occurs after their meeting up in a motel. Is her language at a similar fevered pitch to his, in which case both characters risk being throughly unsympathetic? No, she is quieter, more reflective, less extreme. But then I ask myself what she sees in him? even if he represents her breaking out of her routinised life, he is clearly not suitable for such a sensibility as hers. So i think the author backed himself into an impossible corner here. That is not to say her section isn't powerfully moving as she toils with her autistic son and is a far better representation of motherhood, than his section is about fatherhood.
And then we have the third and final section. A series of phone calls between the two over an event that happens in the man's house. This is the first time they genuinely relate, as in they are 'present' together in the moment and actually conversing. And of course they're not really. They're not really making a connection, he is not really listening to her. She cannot see his face to judge her reactions, since he is down the other end of a telephone line. However, I found the event itself so shocking, I actually felt this was the best part of the novel. But it also didn't seem to fit with the rest of the novel. Although the characters were the same, the shock of them actually being on the same page was strangely jolting. It did seem to come from another book altogether. A very strange effect to wreak on the reader and not one intended I'm guessing.
I found the book a slog, particularly the first 180 pages or so because I just couldn't get into his self-pity and patent unlikableness. But I gave it 3 stars for sections 2 and 3 even though I didn't think they made the book hang together as a whole.