Sunday, October 09, 2005

Books I Will Not Be Finishing #1

It's all very ambitious and profound, but I'm afraid Christos Tsiolkas's Dead Europe just doesn't do it for me. Want deeper analysis? Go elsewhere. I simply don't like it. At the risk of sounding defensive, I'll just point out that it is within my rights not to like this book, even if it is a putative landmark of modern Australian fiction. I will of course balance my defensiveness with a pinch of charity by saying that although I don't care for it, you may. Still, I couldn't finish it. Here's why.

Dead Europe is ambitious, too ambitious for its own good. Tsiolkas is so in love with his themes (discussed at length in any good review, i.e. not this one) that he can't help but ram them down your throat. Characters are forced to engage in absurd, programmatic conversations; every setting, every character drips with "meaning". It is unsubtle, irritating, and exhausting. By page fifty, I wanted to punch the book. The book, I tell you!

It doesn't help that the protagonist is as dull as Saturday night at Brian Harradine's place, and that he narrates his story with all the verve of a self-important first year Arts student. Hey, I've been there and written that way. You know, the combination of mannered rigidity and purposeless crudity that amounts to what I like to call the "this is a serious, meaningful book, and don't you tell me it's not" tone. You want to grab Tsiolkas and tell him to stop trying so damn hard. Relax, dude (this is me talking to Tsiolkas now). Stop being such an overweening smarty pants and maybe your prose would be half-way readable.

I wasn't even impressed by the novel's unrelenting bleakness. Michel Houellebecq's Atomised may have turned me off sex, if not the entire human race, for about a month, but at least its depravity was exhilarating, its pessimism so extreme that I found myself engrossed even as I was repelled. Tsiolkas's world-view is also gloomy, but perhaps owing to the flat tone of his writing, I failed to appreciate it even on a shocking, pornographic level. Ultimately, Tsiolkas bores me, and surely that is the worst thing you can say of a writer.

So, to reiterate, I do not like Dead Europe. Christos Tsiolkas can feel free to strike me off his Christmas card list - at least it will save me having to read another word from his pen.

And yes, I have been drinking. What of it?

Book length: 411 pp.
Pages read: 158 pp.


Jon said...

Haven't even thought about looking at Dead Europe. I've harboured a mild hatred for Tsiolkas for some years now. By the sounds of it, I'm not missing out on much.

Anonymous said...

Why hatred? You wouldn't be one of the dudes on p363 would you?

Jon said...

Hatred because I don't much like his work. Alright...hatred might be too strong a term, but I'm fond of hyperbole. Not having read it, I don't know what the dudes on page 363 habitually get up to. Unless they enjoy griping about books they haven't read though, I suspect I'm not one of them.

mscynic said...

" dull as Saturday night at Brian Harradine's place."

Tee hee hee.

May I use that?

Beth said...

No, Tim, no! You can't not love the Tsiolkas? He's beautiful. Although some of your criticisms were uncomfortably sharp and accurate...but still, I love Dead Europe. Love it.

Tim said...

Beth, I felt pangs of guilt writing this review, because I know how much you love "the Tsiolkas". But I'm afraid he doesn't do it for me.