Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Rule of Four

I really wanted to like this book, and in many ways I did.  But I still finished it somewhat disappointed, and--even worse--I felt that while I was reading it.

I think the problem is that this book tries to do too many things at once.  That is its selling point, its victory and its curse.  It screams "We're not just The Da Vinci Code!" and yet on some levels it is, with much better writing and characterization.

But it lacks Dan Brown's (albeit superficial) tension.  There are no cliffhangers.  There's really no suspense.  You don't really care who the villains are--and the characters don't seem to, either.  There's a nice relationship (in fact, the girl deserves better), but I didn't care, except that I felt bad for the girl.

But while I felt bad for her, I realized that it didn't matter, and for God's sake let's get on with it.

If you liked rich-school hijinks, a la 1983's Class (You remember, with Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Jacqueline Bissett and Cliff Robertson?), then you'll like the Princeton antics described here.

But I didn't care.  Just bring on the book, the mystery, the characters, the murders.

If you liked the almost-homoerotic tension between rich schoolboys, a la A Separate Peace, then you'll enjoy that part.  I hated A Separate Peace, and I hated that part of this book.  C'mon, bring on the book, the mystery, etc.

If you liked good writing, you'll like that part.  I do, and I did. But...Does the writing have to be that good for a book like this?  I guess you can have it both ways.  Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose and Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost come to mind. But...the sometimes great sentence seemed superfluous here.  While I was waiting for it to get back to the mystery, I often read a great sentence that shocked me out of the book.  I actually uttered "Wow" a few times, out loud.  But...

Surprisingly, this book was not quite the page-turner I'd heard about.  The word on the street was so high on this one, that maybe my expectations were unfair.  I don't know, but I'm confident that this book would have been much better with all of the Princeton kijinks taken out, as well as least half of the Separate Peace nonsense, and tighten up the mystery and the murders.

On that last point, another problem here is that you don't have time to wonder (or, to even care) who the murderer is.  I mean, there are only two options, and then one of them turns up dead.  Not much of a mystery, really.

The direction of the writing also doesn't let you think about it.  You just go along with it all and wait for it to be shown to you.  It gets buried behind the other stuff.

And so I have to say I liked it, but with reservations.  It ultimately disappointed me, but I acknowledge that it's well-written, though maybe I needed the more base of writings here.  It tries to be both The Name of the Rose and The Da Vinci Code, but somehow doesn't end up being either one--and doesn't even, somehow, fall between the two.

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