No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, May 01, 2005

#40: The Confessions of Max Tivoli -- Andrew Sean Greer

This is a novel dealing with a man displaced in time, learning to cope with the fact that his life doesn't follow the human story of birth-youth-ageing-death. It's about the woman he loves, and how he meets her for the first time again and again. It's available in various 3-for-2 promotions in UK bookstores. And it's not The Time-Traveller's Wife (reviewed here).

The narrator, Max Tivoli, is living his life backward: the how of it seems fuzzy, but when he's born he's effectively a baby in an old man's body, and by the end of the book he's an old man masquerading as a young boy. Handily, the sum of his actual age and his apparent age is seventy. (His grandmother, with unbelievable precision, decides that he's seventy years old at birth, and has a necklace made for him with his predicted year of death on it.) Naturally this causes problems: when he's 17 (on the inside) he falls in love with Alice, the girl downstairs, who thinks he's a middle-aged father-figure. There's a great deal of pathos in the contrast between external appearance and internal self -- a magnification of the 'but I don't feel grown up' that many of us experience. (Or is it just me?)

The book fails, I think, because of its setting (Max is born in 1871, so gets to experience the San Francisco earthquake and World War One). Max is a product of his time, and he's very well written as a rather pompous and narrow-minded type: sympathetic, but not exactly likeable. And because it's first person throughout -- with Max often missing the bleedin' obvious -- there's little sense of perspective. Perhaps it would have worked better with a few chapters from other points of view.

Having said that, it did make me think -- a lot -- and I did almost cry, though probably not for the right reasons. And there is some beautiful writing in it.
The sun alternates between throwing deep shadows behind the children and trees and then sweeping them back up the moment a cloud crosses the sky. The grass fills with gold, then falls to nothing. The whole school yard is being inked with sun and blotted, glowing and reaching a point of great beauty, and I am breathless to be in the audience. No one else notices.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

No comments:

Post a Comment