Sunday, January 08, 2006

Reader's Diary #6: Frances Itani's Deafening (FINISHED!)

(Forewarning: Though I'll do my best not to offer any spoilers, it's hard to talk about the end of the book without alluding to any specifics. That said, if you've already read this book or if you don't care about risking me blowing the ending for you, read on...)

Grania was really a man?! Holy crap! Just kidding, that doesn't happen. Might have made the story more interesting though. To sum up my feelings about this book, I'm disappointed. I sort of had a parabolic experience with this one. I started off skeptical and disappointed, begun to get my hopes up and actually liked some parts, then came back to the realization that I was still disappointed and my hopes for a clever read had amounted to squat. I know, I know, this has won awards and I haven't, but honestly I don't think this book was intelligent. Call me arrogant, call me ignorant, just hear me out.

I've already expressed some reservations about overused, obvious symbolism but I'll add to that saying it didn't get much better. I know there's a catch-22 when you use symbolism. On the one hand they can enhance writing by relating objects or even events to more abstract, higher ideas but on the other hand, to be recognized as symbols often they are inherently cliched. Many of the major symbols (hair, rope, clocks) are used and used and used again in Deafening. And not well. I even found myself rolling my eyes at Chapter Four being named "IIII" (and if you've read the book, you'll know why). These felt pushed on me so much, they became more distracting and annoying than anything else. One symbol I did like was what was in the sack Mamo and Grania carried. Without giving it away, what was in there and more importantly what they did with it was not revealed until the end. While maybe not an uncommon symbol (is there such a thing?) it was used effectively and by not revealing it until the end, it didn't have the chance to become monotonous.

Also, remember when I said that I liked the parallel between Tress and Grania's mother? Well, apparently Itani did too, because for the rest of the book she seemed to insist on comparing everything and everyone. Many of these became a stretch. Influenza sufferers and war sufferers- I could live with that one I suppose. But when Grania thinks, "Language is our battleground," I rolled my eyes again.

Another disappointment- geez, there's just so many- recall how I said that I was looking forward to see how Grania and Jim interact when he returned from the war? I hope none of you other readers were expecting much. Really, that would have been interesting. What do we get? Something overly sentimental, rushed through and ambiguous.

So without griping forever, this book is probably best suited for a highschool English lit course and has merit in that I suppose. But it won't be a book I'd recommend or remember.


Booklogged said...

Wow, John you area great reviewer. I need to take lessons. Are you an English teacher? How did you get so good at picking up on symbolism, etc? I read the Deafening and really liked it - totally missed out on all the things you noticed.

John Mutford said...

Booklogged: While I am a teacher by training, I've only taught elementary grades so talks have symbolism haven't been forthcoming! I once tried to discuss Charlotte as an angel-figure to Wilbur, but that went over their heads. (Kidding, of course!)

Anonymous said...

You had mentioned the symbolism in Deafening, i have just finished the novel myself, and the only symbolism i picked up on was the rope to symbolized connectedness. You said there was symbolism behind the clock, and hair (Grania's hair I’m suspecting). I am having a hard time trying to see the symbolism of these items and only have a vague idea of what they might mean. What is your opinion on the symbolism of these items?

John Mutford said...

Anonymous: Unfortunately, it's been so long since I've read it, that I don't really remember what the hair thing was about. I know that hair has been linked to freedom in a lot of other literature, but after racking my brains, I just can't remember what happened in Deafening at all. I do remember not enjoying the book, maybe I've repressed it. Sorry!