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I thought the narrator was completely bland and boring, thought the same about his wife although it was vaguely creepy how young she was, and thought his son, the addressee of the novel, hadn't been given any personality at all. I remember enjoying the parts about the narrator's father, but little else. The writing was good but not good enough to make up for the fact that there was nothing else there. Cariola suggested many people may have been into "the spiritual hook" (which I would say was pretty weak), but doubted that this would have made the critics rave the way they did.
So, can someone explain it to me?
ADHD readers (I'm one, too) get bored easily. (Send us to the back of the class room with a dog-eared copy of Pale Fire and we'll stay quiet, I promise)
So, yes, he is kind of bland, and that is the entry to the story. He used his life to focus on the small things and the individual, something his father/grandfather did not do. And, in this he is an artist of sorts. I guess I found something of value in there, and in his reflections on it, and in how it plays out with his "current" story.
That's a funny (if unintentionally revealing) comment - her books leave just a vague smudge of something in my mind too - but I don't think it's us...
I liked the narrator quite a bit, actually. He was extremely gentle, which is a personality trait I need to work on, so I guess I admired something in him that is unlike me (or not natural for me). The other thing I liked about him is that he didn't have all the answers. He was a refreshing contrast to religious people who "know the truth" and are always unwaivering in their faith. I thought it was far more interesting that after a lifetime of being a minister, he did waiver and question.
I know quite a few people who read this book and thought is was a tremendous bore. I can see their point, but I just put myself in a very quiet mood, and it worked for me okay. And I like Nabokov too, so the active/passive analogy doesn't fit for me. I actually actively had to make myself quiet to read this one, I guess.
But yeah, why a prize winner? I don't know.
I am very impressed however, of her knowledge of this "subject", and am told her previous novel is excellent.