I intended for these ‘International Booker Prize 2021’ posts to be longer than my usual reviews but I just didn’t have much to say about this one.
Author: Andrzej Tichý
Translator: Nichola Smalley
Publisher: And Other Stories
Date: 2020 (2016)
Summary: Waiting by the canal in Malmö, a young cellist meets a disorientated junkie. The encounter sends him into a turmoil of memories, voices and associations. As the cellist oscillates between present and past, he is paralysed by doubt and confusion and he begins to question his own place in society. From sprawling social housing estates, via basement clubs and squat parties, and culminating in a dramatic role reversal, Wretchedness is a delirious trip through Europe’s underbelly. With a rhythmic, mesmerising flow, Tichy’s novel explores the possibility of social mobility and the ambivalent desire to escape your origins, asking how to love your neighbour when that neighbour is an addict, a criminal, wretched.
I didn’t enjoy this book and, unfortunately, there won’t be any positive points brought up in this review. I did finish the book and it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read (by a long shot) but I had some issues with it.
Firstly, I’ll start with the layout of the book. Each chapter is one long paragraph which makes it very difficult to read. I know that it’s a choice that some authors make but I can’t stand it. There’s very little useful punctuation. A plethora of commas and very few full stops. No quotation marks to indicate dialogue. No line breaks for dialogue. Just one long paragraph. I must admit that when full stops are used they’re very impactful but the lack of punctuation added to the lack of paragraph breaks or line breaks just made this book an unbearable read for me. I couldn’t concentrate. I skipped bits and had to go back because I kept getting lost. I just didn’t have a good time.
The plot was weird. I can’t even explain it but I just found it weird. In my notes, I wrote that reading this book felt almost like I was listening to a drunk man ramble on about his life in a pub. I’m sure that it does cover everything mentioned in the summary — social mobility and whatnot — but I just couldn’t get any of that because I was so distracted by how the book is written. If the book had been written in a more accessible style (with line breaks every so often) then I might have had a stronger opinion of the plot and the characters.
Would I recommend it? I’m not sure. Maybe read the preview on Amazon and see what you think before purchasing.
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