This book was recommended to me by a coworker as “a perfect story of a marriage”. I read it in one sitting and went through an emotional wringer while riding an emotional roller coaster while seriously needing a glass of wine and therapy. Trigger warning: if you have ever been disappointed, betrayed, disillusioned or in any way wronged by a lover/spouse and gone through the painful process of recovery from that trauma, this book is going to bring it all back in exquisitely excruciating detail. But you should probably read it anyway. It’s that good.
So, David Duchovny’s first book (Holy Cow, which I haven’t reviewed because…well, why?) was amusing, and I listened to him read it on audio so my inner fangirl enjoyed it. But this is a real book, and I enjoyed it even more. Duchovny, a novelist – who knew?
On the surface, it’s about a man who has squandered most of his opportunities and could be dismissed as a total loser. But if you read for just a few pages, you get hooked. By the end, you’ll realize the story is really about love. Love of family, of friends, of lovers – it covers them all, and when you finish the book you’re glad a) that you probably aren’t as fucked up as the protagonist and b) he finally got to express his love to the people he should have.
It’s not a happy book – people get together, break up for dumb reasons, lose other people they love, lie to each other, and make many poor life choices. You know, like life. And if you like baseball, there’s the added element of the whole thing playing out against the backdrop of the 1978 playoffs to spice things up for you. For an unremarkable hitter, Bucky Dent sure ruined a whole lot of people’s lives (including our protagonist’s) with one, stupidly lucky home run at the exact wrong moment. Of course, if you’re a Yankees fan, you probably see this the other way. But that’s life, too.
I started devouring this book the second it came in for me, but didn’t get far the first night. Then I got on a plane at an ungodly early hour last weekend, and I read from chapter 3 to the end before I reached the east coast. It’s that good. Among all of the other things it does, this book asks the question: is it possible that forgetting your past is not only not a bad thing, but sometimes one of the better things that could happen to people?
Our protagonists, Axl and Beatrice, are an elderly married couple who live in post-Roman Britain. Everyone in their town suffers from what they have come to call “the mist” – no one can remember many details of their lives, or recent events, or hold any one thought for long. Axl and Beatrice decide to go visit their son, even though they have never been to his village, and can barely remember what he looks like or why he left them in the first place. (They vaguely remember that they once had a reason not to visit, and that they disagreed about it, but can’t remember what the reason was or which of them refused to go.) They get as far as a neighboring village before they are joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior and an orphan he is protecting, and they wind up joining in on a quest to slay a dragon who may or may not be responsible for the forgetfulness that plagues their land. They meet a knight – Sir Gawain of Arthurian legend – whose mission is supposedly to slay the dragon, but….it’s complicated. I don’t want to give away what happens, but it comes down to the party deciding – are the people better or worse off because they have forgotten their pasts? Should they slay the dragon and restore everyone’s memories, or try to keep her alive to keep the past at bay? There are compelling arguments made for both sides.
There are so many layers to this story that I can’t do them justice. I started the book because I enjoyed Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but this book really isn’t like either of those. (It’s as if Ishiguro has a different personality with a different writing style for every one of his books.) If you like dreamy, symbolic fairy tales and/or have philosophical questions about war, life, memory, forgiveness, love and/or marriage, you might like it. Try it!