Ever since I discovered audiobooks, I have galloped through my reading list, particularly the fiction section. I typically choose books with female protagonists. Biased? Perhaps. But I find the lives of women more multi-dimensional and therefore more interesting. Both their outer and inner lives are deep and rich and filled with introspection and meaning. Many women authors bring out these nuances with ease and I find it particularly fascinating to see how they do it, both as a reader and a writer.
To my surprise, I recently completed reading two novels in quick succession, both featuring an unusual male protagonist. Here are two short reviews on both these two books – the first won a prestigious award and involves travel across continents while the other features an Australian couple in New York City.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Audiobook narrated by Robert Petkoff
This 2018 Pultizer prize-winning novel is about a minor writer in San Francisco whose past claim to fame includes being the gay lover of an famous poet. Arthur Less, whose life is mostly boring and sometimes fascinating, travels across the world in the days before his fiftieth birthday in a vain bid to leave the United States at the time of a wedding that he desperately wants to avoid.
The plot is a humorous satire about the literary world, a glimpse into the world of gay writers in America and a quick trip to Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, Japan and India. The sad life and preoccupations of a lonely middle-aged gay man who has seen as many ups and downs as any other person approaching the same mid-life milestone failed to evoke much emotion in me.
The harsh world of publishing, the difficulty of paying your bills when you are not a famous author and some of the major compromises required to make ends meet were described fairly well in the book. However, Arthur Less seems two-dimensional at best, despite long paragraphs about his self-involved ruminations about his youth and love life and small successes and many quirks.
I enjoyed vicariously traveling to countries that I have visited (except for Mexico) but the audiobook narrator’s poor grasp on the Indian accent made me cringe and also wonder if the other accents (Italian, German, French etc) were equally cheesy. The most interesting part of the novel was discovering who the narrator was, a master twist that I should have seen coming, but perhaps I was distracted by unnecessary details of hordes of characters of little consequence to the main plot.
My opinion: Read it if you want a tongue-in-cheek ringside view of an American writer’s life or if you are curious to discover what makes a book win a prestigious prize like the Pulitzer (I certainly could not figure it out).
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Audiobook narrated by Dan O’Grady
On the heels of the hilarious The Rosie Project that I thoroughly enjoyed a few weeks ago, I was delighted to discover (through Instagram) that there was a sequel, actually two more books in the series. I quickly checked out the next book The Rosie Effect and spent all of my commute hours listening to the audiobook.
After their wedding, Don Tillman and his wife, Rosie have moved to Columbia University, New York, where Rosie is a student and Don, a visiting professor. When they find out that Rosie is pregnant, Don is caught by surprise. Unprepared for a surprise of this magnitude and his limited understanding of human behavior, social protocols and with no idea about what is expected of him, he begins to learn as much as he can about pregnancy and fatherhood from books and from the comments and advice of people he encounters.
Aware of his limitations, Dan ‘literally’ follows suggestions by various new friends (Dave a baseball fan who appeared in the first book and his pregnant wife), acquaintances (George a wealthy has-been drummer who is also Don’s landlord) and others (Lydia a psychologist who ends up being the main reason for many of Don’s capers). His earnest efforts lead him into a series of unusual situations, which make it progressively more difficult for him to cope.
Trying to minimize stress on his pregnant wife, while dealing with unexpected changes in their living arrangements, unplanned changes to meal plans and an unpredictable daily routine is not easy. And trying to keep secrets from Rosie leads to deterioration of their relationship.
Although the book title mentions Rosie, it is Don’s story. Many of the sequences in the book are laugh out loud hilarious both for the events themselves and also for Don’s interpretation which shows his straightforward logical approach to human behavior, which is anything but simple. It is impossible to not feel sorry for Don as he muddles through the days with good intentions but succeeds only in making things more complicated.
My opinion: Highly recommended if you’re looking for a fun read with an unusual cast of characters, all of whom are very believable, even if a bit odd.
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