Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Everything Is Illuminated, take 2: style and content

After posting my review of Everything Is Illuminated yesterday, I've thought a lot more about why I had a negative reaction to the book. Ali Smith, in her recent column in the Guardian about style vs. content, helped clarify my thoughts. 

"For a style may not be to your taste. It may not be your style. But that's an important issue, one that marks style's power. The last thing literary style is is a matter of indifference; that's why it's so powerful a stirrer of love and passion, anger and argument. That's why it can really trouble us. That's why a style you don't take to can feel so like a personal assault."

The personal assault I felt was on two fronts. I mentioned one yesterday, that Foer's use of slapstick humour clashed with the specific depictions of genocide. Smith addresses this very thing, mentioning novels that "clarify historic foulness yet masquerade as, and are, comedic entertainments." Reacting to comedy is deeply personal. Why did I enjoy Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil and not Everything Is Illuminated? Both revisit the Holocaust using humour, an element of fable, and even include the author as a fictional character in their own work. It's simply a matter of taste.

The other thing that I might have taken too personally was the way Alex used English incorrectly in Everything Is Illuminated. Since I'm soon to be immersed in a foreign language environment and my Slovak skills are rudimentary, I know that I will make mistakes. I'll use the wrong words. And maybe I'm a little sensitive about that.

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