Tuesday 30 July 2013

Book Review: The World of the End by Ofir Touche Gafla

Translated by: Mitch Ginsburg

Pros: fascinating world of the after life, complex plot, lyrical writing, interesting and diverse characters

Cons: one plot point revolves around assault

Ben Mendelssohn is a righter of endings, an epilogist.  A year after his wife's unexpected death he kills himself, expecting a touching reunion on the other side.  But while he's correct that there's life after death, he's not expecting the complexity or strangeness of the otherworld.  And he's definitely not expecting that his wife is nowhere to be found.

The novel alternates between chapters of Ben's life/afterlife with those of seemingly random side characters.  As the novel progresses and the various side stories merge you start to realize how lives intersect and affect each other in the most bizarre ways.  

The alternating chapters ramp up the suspense as each chapter with Ben ends with him discovering something on his quest to find his wife.  But you don't find out what it is until his next chapter, propelling you through the book at a breakneck pace.

While I liked Ben, some of the side characters were harder to relate to.  For example, while I pitied Ann's childhood, her attitude as an adult, based on adult decisions, was in many ways reprehensible.  And yet, her part of the story was so interesting it was hard to stop reading. 

As a work in translation (from Hebrew no less) word choice becomes important.  There were two decisions that I wondered about.  The first was Ben's career as a righter (as opposed to writer).  I'm not sure if there was meant to be a deeper meaning to the choice that I simply didn't get (which I'm willing to accept as one chapter dealt with the writings of Salmon Rushdie, an author I've not read, and I'm sure it contained allusions I therefore missed).  Along the same lines I'm not sure if the Babel chip the citizens of the Other World get is just a reference to the Biblical story or if I was supposed to think of the Babel fish in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well.  

The second word choice that surprised me was the use of the term 'midget' as opposed to the more politically correct 'little people' to describe two of the characters.  I do applaud the author for including not one but two little people in important supporting roles.  The only question I had here was that at one point one of them hosts someone at their home and I was left wondering if the furniture was sized for her, thereby potentially harder to use by her guest?

The world of the afterlife was fascinating.  I don't want to spoil anything, as the author slowly brings different aspects of the world into focus, but he really did flesh out the world well.  I did wonder why orientation didn't explain several things - particularly about the aliases - which would have been very helpful for the protagonist (and presumably countless others) to know.

One of the plot points revolves around an assault, which may be triggering for some readers though there is no gratuitous description.  Similarly, one character is revealed as a pedophile, though one who doesn't abuse children.  

I found the ending itself a touch anti-climactic, though it did fit the book perfectly. 

Ultimately this is a great book with a compelling mystery, discourses on death - and what, if anything, it means - some romance and a unique cast of characters.  You'll go through a gambit of emotions reading it as you race to the end.  

No comments: