Thursday, July 29, 2010

Proclaiming it 'a digging instrument'

I have just risked making myself very unpopular with the fine people over at The Book Book book review blog by daring to point out that one of the most universally acclaimed and adored novels of the past decade - Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner - is..... er..... really not very well written.

Hosseini, I found, really overdid the piling on of thematic repetitions in different phases of his story. [Yes, just a few SPOILERS coming up, if you haven't read it yet.] The boy Hassan gets anally raped. Later, his son will suffer sexual abuse (by the same person) - just to remind us what Hassan suffered? In between times, one of the accomplices in the first rape suffers the same fate himself, and it drives him mad - so, there's some kind of cosmic justice in that, huh?

Why do we have to encounter this latter character again - in a wildly improbable coincidence - just to see him get his comeuppance? It adds nothing to the story. And why does the childhood tormentor of Hassan and Amir have to reappear as the adult villain at the end of the book? There's no real need for that, either; it's just a comic book over-simplification of narrative.

Perhaps I'm more intolerant than most people of this kind of excessive contrivance in a plot; but I think Hosseini could have got away with it if he hadn't been so goddamned heavy-handed about it. Every time there's some kind of reminiscence of an earlier event, he laboriously signposts it for you. In fact, he doesn't just make the parallel as glaring as possible; he then repeats it, to make sure you've noticed; and then, most times, he says outright what the parallel is. He seems to have a terror of leaving the reader to do any work for himself. Amir leaves some money under the mattress of his driver's children as a thank-you. Yes, of course it reminds him of when he put money under Hassan's mattress, to frame him for theft. We never would have thought of that if you hadn't told us. Little Hassan had a harelip. Years later, Amir gets his lip torn open fighting to protect Hassan's son. Oh, isn't that ironic? Yes, I think I might have appreciated the appositeness of that development - if you'd given me some peace to think about it for myself. Very, very, very clunky, obtrusive, irritating writing.

And I couldn't help but wonder - is this a product of the "creative writing" fad (industry!) that's now so rife in America? Do instructors on such courses now counsel that the average member of the reading public is so dumb or lazy that you have to join up all the dots for them, that you have to make everything really explicit, that you have to say the important stuff once, twice, three times to make sure they'll get it? That is, at least, if you want to produce a major bestseller.

It frightens me to speculate that our literary culture might be becoming so 'dumbed down' - but I really think it might be so.

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