My rating: 2 of 5 stars
“Though in general, anything universally praised is usually preposterous rubbish.” page 47
This is the only quote that struck me as I was reading and how appropriate they turned out to be.
The idea of this book is fascinating, but the execution was troubling. There is no clean and solid story line to follow in Part One, and for a long while in Part Zero, the story line remained murky and difficult to follow. The only time the book became a page turner was the last part of Tiananmen Square. It was only then that the prose became clear and understandable.
This book focuses heavily on musical pieces but unless you want to interrupt your flow of reading and search for recordings of pieces, or you happen to be a huge fan of classical music and know some of the more obscure artists, there is no real understanding of the pieces of music referred to. Some people refer to the musicality of the writing, the introduction of a theme, then the second movement is an exploration of the theme, the third movement a new expression of the first movement as a new expression of the first movement but even that wasn’t so clearly delineated in the work.
All in all this book is very unsatisfying as a work. The chance to explore recent Chinese history was lost in lots of faff and twaddle. I have no earthly idea how it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize or the Scotiabank Giller Prize. I just see no reason. Sure, a truckload of people are going to talk about its lyrical quality and how moving this story was, I’m just not on that truck.
(PS, it must be noted that I read this book directly after reading How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely and I think maybe it tainted my view. No, in reality I stand by my vote of no confidence in this book.)