Books 2009: Junot Diáz - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

It is not very often that I have to spend time figuring out whether or not I liked a book and what its strengths/weaknesses were. I'm a trained professional, for heaven's sake, and I did not spend [undisclosed] years in Evil Literary Geek School just to sit here and go "uhm". But, dear readers, I am indeed going "uhm" over The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I have been uhmming for a few days now. I started out loving this book with a fierce passion. I loved the narrator with his footnotes* and idiosyncratic diction. He was funny, contemporary and really refreshing. And then, whoah nelly, the book shifted to another voice, another place, and another time. Diáz is a technically gifted writer and I cannot fault him for wanting to play around with timelines, but once the narrator turned out to just be one among many (or, to use more correct terms, what I thought was just the main diegesis was in many ways both extradiegetic and metadiegetic), the book felt ..

.. and this is where I am going "uhm". Most books would fall apart with a narrative structure like the one I have outlined above, but this one doesn't. It is woefully uneven and comes to a muddled conclusion, but it does not fall apart. It had some sublime moments, but it also came across as very contrived at other times. I cannot make up my mind whether or not I liked it or not.

Perhaps it suffices to say that parts of the novel were excellent but as a whole it left me going "uhm." (And that you could probably categorise it as a post-colonial homage to geek chic.)

(* I love footnotes in fiction! The barking mad footnotes in Nabokov's Pale Fire! The mind-bending footnotes in Gray's Lanark! The comedic footnotes in Coe's The House of Sleep! The elegant footnotes in Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell! The conversational footnotes in Fforde's Thursday Next novels! Even the very silly footnotes in Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy! If it has footnotes, chances are that I'll love the book)