Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Dose (n): I've no
idea what it means
"Not all that crazy" was my rather insipid first impression of the previously imposing-looking Lethem. Quite what I had expected is now unclear, but there is an inkling of a memory of a semi-conscious association of the word fortress with the anticipation of a challenging read. Stupid me, I had completely missed the direct reference to Superman's arctic hideaway, and the pretty comprehensive blurb should have pointed out that in many respects this is a straight forward semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Brooklyn. Straight forward except for the bits of Superman-esque flying, as well as invisibility, bestowed by the ring of a guy who lived on the roof tops of Brooklyn tenements and thought he could fly.
It's been a little while since I finished this, and perhaps that could explain why this review hasn't exactly exploded from the blocks. I recall wishing to drop what it was I was doing at any given point and go back to reading with a cup of tea or head down to my local Coffee #1 and take up valuable soft leather armchair space, but this may have been due to what it was I was doing rather than how rapt and enamored I was with this book. In fact, although I can clearly remember lots of character names, the plot, the twists, the rather odd super powers and so forth, I don't seem to have a strong emotional response to the book. I recall clearly feeling that his insights and portrayal of aspects of childhood resonated with my memory of childhood. That's good, right? I remember the comic book heroes of which he speaks, and can identify some if not all of the music he mentions as formative or at least important to the book. And yet... And yet...

So it's big (in scope) and captures accurately what it is to grow up in a place where you are so often on the outside looking in, and lots of blah blah blah. Christ, I'm just not that interested. Not in the book or in this review. I've read it, and am happy to have done so. Dylan as "genuine literary hero" though? I think Michael Chabon may have had a few drinks too many over a boozy lunch with Lethem's publicist. You probably should read it at some point, but on the patented GBD scale of "Should but can't be arsed" (1 being Did I see this on Richard & Judy? Never going to happen, 10 being Top of the pantheon but have you seen the size of if?) it might sneak in around 4 or 5, just behind [insert any Dickens here] but ahead of anything by Richard Ford.

1 comment:

  1. I feel I should mitigate my random grumpiness a little by saying that the day I wrote this review was a particularly sapping day and I was just being bellicose (if one can be apathetic and bellicose at the same time). So sorry Mr Lethem, but I did like your book. I just didn't have the energy to relive my experience in anything but a sour fashion.