January 14, 2009

Cockroach - Rawi Hage

This was book 4 out of 5 in my Giller read-athon.  I was really looking forward to reading this book since it had been named as the favourite to win the Giller this year (as Hage won a few years ago for DeNiro's Game),  and though I wasn't impressed at first, the book did improve the further I got through it.  It could be summed up, if it were subtitled "Cockroach:  Ramblings of a delusional thief who believes he is a cockroach, following a failed suicide attempt".

I think what grated on me most was the style - very much stream-of-thought - which made it very rambly and slow to go anywhere.  But once I latched onto the plot, that was easier to overcome.  And it was interesting to get into the head of a delusional thief who believes he is a cockroach!  Not something that I experience every day.  And I don't want to be the grammar police, but would a few quotation marks once in a while hurt anyone?  305 pages, lots of dialogue, and not a single quotation mark.  He may have been striving for ambiguity - there was certainly some of that, as I didn't know in places if the words were said out loud or not - but I did find it frustrating.

The plot itself was interesting, once it got going.  The unnamed narrator is an immigrant from an unspecified middle east country (more ambiguity here!) - my guess was Syria or Lebanon - living in Montreal, interacting mainly with other immigrants.  Having lived in Montreal for the 4 years that I was at McGill, it was fun to come across locations that were familiar.  It is always fun to read books set in places that you know.  The ending is beautifully written (I'm not going to give it away) in its inevitability.

So a mixed review here.  Ended better than it started, an interesting cast of characters, but written in a style that I didn't enjoy (though someone else may love the style).

I'm going to have to pause before reading the 5th and final Giller nominee, as I have 2 books borrowed from the public library that will be due back at the end of the month, and they have to take priority in my reading list.

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