Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book Review... Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

In recent years my literary pursuits have waned for various reasons, namely intellectual overload and the inability to read for the sake of reading, and not for the themes, subtext, unique use of syntax and vernacular. I had been under the impression that my ability to put the new Ondaatje novel back on the shelf, and my hesitant interest in The Ground Beneath Her Feet signaled a new era, my belletristic quest had begun, art for purely aesthetic value, not longer for its impact on the social and personal spheres, or its representation of its culture, no longer an issue of modern, post-modern, colonial, feminist etc.. However, this is not the case, this is not a threshold to be traversed, I am held fast to the literary foundation. Vincent Lam's work may have won the Giller, and it may be a well written text. My criticism is not so much with the content, although there is the cliché incest theme; it is with the overall format. The novel reads like a Margaret Atwood novel. One "chapter" in and I was reading Atwood with a discernible scientific, occasionally male voice. Sure enough when I flipped to the back she was noted as one of his supporters. Maybe there are those who have not consumed hundreds of novels, poems and non-fiction work, and his work would sound like a distinct voice. However, for those who have, a novel ultimately mimicking one of the most distinct voices in literature, especially Canadian literature is disappointing.

While the content is not a huge deterrent to the read, it is double edge sword of sorts. As someone who was addicted to ER and currently Grey's Anatomy, worked in a medical office for the last 10 years, written the MCAT and made two unsuccessful runs at medical school the content is familiar - banal to be honest. I do not think that anyone who is not interested in medicine would find the topic interesting or even be able to relate to the story. Then again I could be wrong. Another issue is the clichés, there is the incest one, used all too often, and then the usual: boy meets girl, girl likes boy, but trades him in a cold hearted fashion. The characters are flat; Ming, his female character, is neither bitch nor benevolent soul, rather just bland. It could even be argued this is due to a lack of understanding of the female thought process. It is a precarious position to be in writing a female with a distinct male voice. Then again his male characters are almost as flat; as they are constricted by binary roles, of reformed student gone bad again (Fitz), rebel/hot head (Sri), and savior (Chen). I could be argued if you were attempting to push this text into literary fiction and out of the paperbacks in the magazine aisle that Lam is implementing a blindungsroman format using Ming as the main character. This could work if Ming was the main character, she however is not. The reviews of critical acclaim indicate the use of metaphors - if they are present it was not readily noticeable - medicine in not a metaphor for real life it is life, and life at it's most basic. You see the good, bad and everything else about human nature no literary construct required.

All that being said, if you want a quick read, and know a little about science, medicine or the beloved Kreb's Cycle than give it a whirl - Buy it used or I'll give you my copy to save you the cash.

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