Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

In the blurb of this book, the word "bookstore" was used. This is like my kryptonite, so I immediately requested this book on NetGalley. I mean, it's about a bookstore owner! Unfortunately, this book was only 'meh' to me.

This book is about Tooly, a woman who was kidnapped as a child in Bangkok and moved around. She finally "settles" down owning an unprofitable bookstore, until one day, her ex-boyfriend calls with news about Humphrey, a man who raised her. From there on, Tooly goes back, ostensibly to see Humphrey, but really for the reader to find out more about her.

Because this book jumps around in time, it took me till Chapter 8 to understand what the book was about. From Chapters 1 to 8, the book just seemed like a series of unrelated chapters. There were a beautiful sentence about reading, but I felt absolutely no connection to the characters because I had no idea what was going on. And even after chapter 9, I still struggled to connect with Tooly and the other characters.

I'm not sure if this is because the author was trying to be over-ambitious. There is a passage in the book that says:
In made-up stories, he contended, life narrowed into a single tale with a single protagonist, which only encouraged self-regard. In real life, there was no protagonist. 
Is this a meta-literary sentence, where the author is trying to tell us that there is no one main character? Nope, Tooly is the main character and there's no denying that. The book revolves around her - who cared about her and who didn't. The rest of the characters are just there.

And for the most part, I didn't care much for Tooly. Her values, which she learnt from Venn, are twisted, to put it simply. She was brought up to be a cynic and not to care. And that make her unlikable to me. Perhaps it's the non-linear narrative, but I never felt that she was searching for herself, I just felt that she ran into a series of events.

 Perhaps this book over-reached itself. I haven't read the author's other books, but taken alone, this book isn't very impressive. It does get better towards the end, as I managed to figure out the chronological narrative, but the poor beginning left a bad impression on me that never went away. I will, however, leave you with one beautiful passage from the book:

Tooly had read the book already but, as with all her favorites, she'd stopped before its ending. It was dispiriting to witness her printed companions concluding their lives with a blank space at the bottom of the final page, so she halted earlier, returning months thereafter, flipping back several hundred pages to find them as they had been, deep in conversation, conceiving dastardly plants and share retorts. 

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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