I’ve decided to start grouping books and writing reviews of more than one book at once occasionally. The main reason for this new format is that my backlog of books to review is out of control. But I also realized that grouping books allows for interesting comparisons and categorizations.
These two books turn the truth on its head several times and make you wonder repeatedly what’s going on.
The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits
A teenage girl disappears and mysteriously returns claiming she had been abducted. She begins psychiatric counseling, where she finally recants her story and admits she ran away. The revelation tears apart her family, while her psychiatrist writes a book inspired by her case. Years later, Mary’s mother dies without reconciling with her, and she comes back to her hometown for the funeral.
Lots of books alternate between two narratives (past and present, two characters’ points of view, etc), but this is the only one I can think of that alternates between three narratives, from three different points in time and three different perspectives. Mary’s story in the present as she endures her mother’s funeral and confronts her past, her psychiatrist’s notes of his sessions with her,and most mysteriously, “what might have happened” when Mary disappeared. This format really amplifies the mystery and left me with tons of questions–in a good way.
A major question of the novel is about how much we can trust psychiatrists, who sometimes interpret our stories in ways that can be self-serving, and call us crazy or ‘difficult’ if we don’t agree with them. There were a lot of gender politics at play here. Mary’s doctor is compared to Freud, who pathologized his female patients’ sexuality, and Mary’s mother preferred to believe her daughter was a liar than that she had been raped.
The Magus by John Fowles
This gigantic book is about a guy who goes to Greece to teach at a school on a remote island in the 1950’s. He meets this old rich dude who proceeds to fuck with his head in every way possible. They have lots of philosophical discussions about God, mythology, trust. About 5 times, the young teacher catches the rich old dude in a lie of some kind, each bigger than the last, until the lie is a conspiracy that encompasses both their entire lives. It was impressive how many times the truth turned in on itself in this book. The protagonist is a major asshole in his relationships with women. He acts like he expects sympathy anyway, but it’s not clear to me how much we readers are supposed to empathize with him or judge him. I guess he mostly gets his just deserts, but still, it’s all kinds of messed up. The ending is about as open and closure-free as they come, the kind you could call happy if you read it in a good mood and bitter if you read it when depressed.