Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rhyming Life & Death by Amos Oz (a review)

Rhyming Life and Death
3 out of 5: This slim, inventive novel covers an 8-hour period in which a well-known author (referred to, simply, as the Author) participates in a reading from his recently published book. All the while, the Author concocts fictional personalities and stories about the real people he encounters during the course of the evening. Two men in a cafĂ©, observed as the Author eats a pre-reading omelet, become “a gangster’s henchman” and his “agent of sorts, or perhaps a hairdryer salesman.” The waitress is cast in a week-long romance with “the reserve goalkeeper of Bnei-Yehuda football team.”

During the reading and afterwards, as the Author walks the city until 4 a.m., his stories spin out into ever greater layers of complexity and interrelatedness, and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Through it all, the Author questions why he writes and discovers his art has become his only connection to the world:
[H]e continues to watch them and write about them so as to touch them without touching, and so that they touch him without really touching him. … He is covered in shame and confusion because he observes them all from a distance, from the wings, as if they all exist only for him to make use of in his books. And with the shame comes a profound sadness that he is always an outsider, unable to touch or to be touched ….
Rhyming Life & Death is an interesting conceptual novel. Oz’s deconstruction of the creative process is unsettling because it reveals just how quickly we, the readers, will adopt a story line as a kind of “reality,” at least with respect to the protagonist. While this book’s cerebral pleasures are many, its emotional resonance falls flat. It’s difficult to care much about the Author’s roughly-drawn characters and sketchy stories, making Rhyming Life & Death more of an engaging philosophical exercise than a novel.


Zibilee said...

This sounds like something I would like to take a look at. I am always interested in conceptual novels, and like to check them out when I can. It's funny because I don't usually find them to be great books, but I think it's neat to see novel things being done with the written word. Great review on this one!

Diane said...

I've been wondering about this book. For me, sometimes conceptual novels work, sometimes --not so much. I may try this one as I know it's not a hefty book. Thanks for the review.

J.T. Oldfield said...

how slim is this book? Is it a novella?

Gwen Dawson said...

JT Oldfield--very slim. Only 128 pages. I would call it a novella, but it's marketed as a novel (as was Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, another "novel" that's really a novella).