Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Review: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers
Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, about an ex-patriot newspaper in Rome, knocked my socks off. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, like so many sophomore efforts, is a major letdown.
The heroine, Tooly Zylberberg, is a 32-year-old bookshop owner in Wales with a profound disinterest in selling any books and a befuddling lack of knowledge about the internet. The story of her adventuresome past is told through a series of flashback-and-forths between her as a 9-year old in Bangkok, a 20-year-old in New York, and present day.
My big gripe is that the secret of her past was made so mysteriously obscure that there was almost no plot to the first half of the book, lest the secret be given away. Her activities in the flashback scenes are intentionally unmoored from full explanation until the final chapters, to build up the mystery. It got pretty boring, floating around, waiting for a story to turn up.
Of course, the trouble with a big build up like that is that it has to deliver. I was disappointed. Tooly’s unorthodox childhood turned out to have a pretty banal explanation. And she wasn't even likable. She couldn't do anything for herself, including finishing school, getting a job, making any money, or being a friend. I slogged on to the end to find out what happened to her, but by then I barely cared.
New York Times
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This is one of the books I read for my personal 2015 TBR challenge: