Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Don De Lillo - Zero K (Picador, 2016) ***

This is a bad novel and a good novel. It is boring and fascinating. The narrator visits a remote compound in the desert where people go to die. He gets shown around by guides, he meets his father and his wife. She is planning to "die", and to have her body preserved through cryogenesis until new treatments become available. The first part of the book is a description of this utopian/dystopian environment where rich people can get the best possible self-chosen temporary death. It reminds me of the early utopian novels, in which basically nothing happens, apart from a picture of a possible new world, with lots of attention to technology, interactions with humans, and how the consequences are thought through. It is pretty boring stuff, with uninteresting characters, no plot and no sense of purpose or direction.

Part Two of the novel is completely different. Different in tone, different in subject, different in emotional weight, different in writing style. It's the story of the narrator's relationship with Emma, a teacher who adopted a boy who is now fourteen years old and difficult. She is alone to raise the child after her divorce. Suddenly the world has become real, recognisable, human. Like the other characters, the narrator's world is full of questions. Life is difficult. There are no easy answers for the minor and major dilemmas we face every day. Where in the first part of the book, he is guided by an almost cult-like organisation that has all the answers - except survival - the second is more open-ended. My question is : could Part Two stand on its own? Would it be a good read if I recommended that you do not read Part One?

Give it a try.

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