Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, Island of Point Nemo (2014)


This seemed like an incredibly fascinating book, just the sort of thing I'd like. Back-cover blurbs compare it to Murakami and Eco, and, you know, my Murakami fandom may be extremely ambivalent, but still, it's the sort of thing I want to like and, you know, that looks cool. It's about a stolen diamond. Kind of. And it leads into being a picaresque trip across Asia and Australia. The main characters are a drug-enthusiast detective, Canterel; a descendant (apparently) of Sherlock Holmes and his servant Grimod; and Canterel's one-time amour known as Lady MacRae. There are some others too, but that's the main lot. And there are a lot of, you know, enigmas. That could indeed lead one to think of Murakami. Secret codes. Mysterious killers. Lovecraftian...stuff. Also, a number of plotlines that connect tenuously at most with the main one: the Chinese owner of an ebook manufacturing plant who spies on his employees, a couple's persistent efforts to cure the husband's impotence, the owner of a shut-down cigar factor which morphs into a thing about a tradition of workers in cigar factories making the time go by with readings from novels and whatnot while they work. And like that.

I swear, I read halfway through this novel trying to decide: do I actually like this? Is this good? Because it does seem kind of interesting in outline, and yet...it's also sort of off-putting in some ways. I'm not sure. But by the end, I was pretty firmly decided: this is definitely the worst novel I've read in a long time.

It's not that it's not interesting in theory. In outline, the plot is intriguing, and the book does this cool thing where you assume that you're dealing with the regular ol' normal world but then there are occasional little details where you think, wait, what...? This can't be right...? And you realize there's something subtly askew here. That's good. But in practice, I really can't tell you uninvolving the book is. I mean, say what you want about Murakami--and god knows I will--but at least he's able to keep you engaged as he leads you to nowhere. I actually wouldn't make the comparison; most of the mysteries here are pretty well-explained by the end. But boy was it not worth it! Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that the characters are so totally crafted of cardboard, I can't even tell you. You have no idea how much effort I had to expend to even remember their names above. Nothing particular to say about any of them, and any potentially interesting character traits go nowhere--Canterel's addiction to opium and various other drugs is a thing near the beginning, and then de Roblès seems to just kind of forget about it. The fact that Holmes is a Holmes is barely touched upon. For instance.

AND FURTHERMORE. There were things where you just wonder: IS THIS RACIST/AND OR SEXIST? I mean, particularly the CHINESE factory owner spying on his employees and getting off on it, forcing a female employee suspected of theft to strip down and explicitly fantasizing about molesting her breasts? I mean...really? Also, how about the part with the couple where the guy's impotent, and the fact that the man his wife ends up seeing instead ends up being a black with--of course?--a huge cock? There's nothing here where there isn't at least some degree of plausible deniability, but how much deniability do I want to have to do? It just made the book feel kind of gross and unpleasant. de Roblès has eight other novels, but only one of them has been translated into English. I am shedding no tears over this lack.

3 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

What kind of Ophera is that?

4:24 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

The kind of opera where there's no music or singing and you read it rather than watch it. Very avant-garde.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Sounds like some interactive fun!

1:37 PM  

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