Book Review – A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

We meet again, Mr. Blog…

Obviously, I’m in a strange mood today. Yesterday was a refreshing success on many accounts, and I’m feeling relaxed and ready to get some work done today. The Husband came home sick from work, so he’s in the next room napping, and I’ve got the Writing Room door closed for the first time since I’ve started using it for its intended purpose.

It feels so… solitary. Isolated. Deliciously mine. Surrounded by my favorite things (my Garrus Vakarian figurine, my framed Elantris maps, coffee, my diplomas, and of course the books!) I finally feel like I can get down to business.

garrus-vakarian

“Can it wait a minute? I’m in the middle of some calibrations.”

So, yesterday. I wrote a book review for Blood Rites, outlined four chapters and an interlude of From the Quorum, and then wrote 1,113 words of chapter 11.

I also read Saga vol. 6, and finished reading A Borrowed Man. FINALLY. This book took multiple attempts, each time maxing out the possible renewals from the library. I had to return it and read something else at one point, but I finally came back to it.

I was damn near ready to execute my “200” rule. This is a relatively new thing I’ve implemented, in an effort to keep me reading as I work on completing my annual reading challenges. I found that, occasionally, there are books that I just can’t get through. I’ll spend weeks trudging through them, or avoiding them, instead of moving on and reading something else.

In an effort to curb this habit, I created a “rule” for myself. If I can get to page 200, roughly the 50k word mark of most books (which is a generally accepted minimum length of a novel), and I still am not interested in finishing the book, I get to count it toward my reading challenge. At that time I can decide, based on how much I understand of the book, whether or not to write a review.

Obviously, any review written about an unfinished book would be proclaimed as such, and would be a generally vague “I liked it and why” or “I didn’t like it and why” sort of review. I have yet to actually do this, but I am open to it. And who knows, maybe I’ll make another attempt to finish it somewhere down the road, as I’ve done in the past. In which case I could then do a full and proper review.

Anyway, a comment of mine basically stating the concept of the “200” rule on John Guillen’s blog led to this response blog post on his site. It’s worth a read and comment if you’re so inclined.

But, A Borrowed Man was nearly my first “200” book of 2017. I was all set and ready to return it unfinished. And then I hit page 200 and things actually started happening. Literally 2/3 through the book and something interesting finally happened.

But, let me go back and actually do this review right.

a-borrowed-manA Borrowed Man is a Sci-Fi novel by Gene Wolfe. He is widely accepted as one of the most prominent literary voices in the genre, and seems to be generally well-loved. Apparently, my mistake was introducing myself to him via this particular book. Based on a number of reviews, I should have started somewhere else.

I would consider this book to be literary Sci-Fi. The science fiction elements are definitely there. The whole premise is that E.A. Smithe is the property of the Spice Grove Public Library, because he is the clone of a popular 21st Century crime novelist. A woman checks him out to help her solve the mystery of her father’s and brother’s deaths, not just because of his expertise in understanding and writing murder-mysteries, but because their deaths seem tied to a physical copy of one of his books, Murder on Mars.

Add to it that the setting is a futuristic Earth that lost 2/3 of the population to some sort of war, and a very intriguing bit of astrophysics later in the book, and I staunchly agree that this is a Science Fiction novel.

But, it’s also a Noir. And it’s also very literary in its approach to character development and the narrator’s voice.

This combination of genre elements could have been very interesting and attention grabbing, but instead it plodded along, and bits and pieces fell together in ways that just weren’t very satisfying for me.

That could be a problem with me and not the book. Perhaps I missed a lot of cues early on (most likely due to bored inattention) that prevented me from anticipating the finished result. Apparently, with Gene Wolfe, that’s not unlikely. The book is very cerebral, without giving me anything to latch on to and get my brain in gear. dark-run

In short, I was bored. Only the last 50 pages or so were decent, but by then I was just frustrated with the previous 250, and not open to thinking too kindly of E.A. Smithe and his associates.

Anyway, it all comes together in the end, so if you don’t hate the first half of the book, its worth finishing. But, I’m glad I can put this one in the rear-view mirror. Now on to Dark Run by Mike Brooks! Nothing like a jaunt with space pirates to captivate my attention!

Until next time, Blogland!

 

BZ

 

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