Thursday, December 09, 2004

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

A grad student recommended this first novel to me. The writing is immediately striking -- as I read the first pages I thought, well, of course, this got published. The sentences are incredibly tight and loaded with imagery and precise word choices. The initial subject matter -- twelve choir boys are molested by their choir master -- is dark, but the first person voice of one of the boys --Fee-- makes it dark and beautiful rather than simply crushing. More than halfway through the novel switches to another first person (Fee has grown up and one of his students takes up the narration) which while decently written didn't hold me the way the first half did. When we switch back to Fee's voice it becomes clear that the novel really does belong to him, and the writer basically needed to use the middle section to convey information Fee couldn't give us. It's a trick probably only other writers will be bothered by, but I was bothered by it. It's perhaps a pet peeve since so many student novelists move between first person voices simply as a means to not be overwhelmed by telling a big, extended story. Or maybe it's just a personal objection. It almost always feels like cheating to me when a book switches voices. Though there are exceptions -- Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, for one. Still, this was a good book.

1 comment:

Oliver de la Paz said...

Yay yay yay! You're in the blogosphere! Great posts! I read Chee's Edinburgh last year. As you probably know, it was a winner of the Asian American Writers' Workshop award for fiction. The switch to the other POV was a bit troublesome, I agree. It felt like a very strange aside, but apart from that, I was deeply involved in the novel.