Last time I wrote about audiobooks, I was in the middle of listening to Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. Well, now I’ve finished it, and I have to say I wasn’t all that terribly impressed. The story never quite came together for me; I never really came to care about the characters all that much. And then there was a strange shift in narrators near the end, along with a new reader, so I felt like I was listening to a completely new book and it was jarring. The thing is, on the back of the CD case were pictured two readers, a man and a woman, so I knew another reader would be coming along at some point, but since it didn’t happen until near the end of the novel, I spent quite a long time wondering when the reader would shift. I found it irritating. This is not the fault of the book, of course, just some unfortunate circumstances that kept me from giving it a fair chance, I suppose.
The novel is about two stories that intertwine; one is about Danny, a tough, New York City guy who gets into some trouble and so jumps at the opportunity to go visit his cousin in Europe. This cousin owns and is renovating a castle somewhere on Germany’s border. The other story is about Ray, a guy in prison who is taking a writing class and is falling in love with his instructor. I liked the beginning of the novel, which has a harrowing scene from Danny’s childhood where he and some friends abandon his cousin in a cave, but the rest of the novel doesn’t live up to this beginning. It’s got some odd, fantastical, magic-realism elements to it that I didn’t really get the point of and I wasn’t all that interested in the novel’s ideas. It’s a reworking of the gothic, with the castle and some mystery and a frightening Baroness, but Egan didn’t convince me that there was a larger point to this reworking, besides the chance to have some fun writing about Baronesses and castles.
But I’m now listening to Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, and so far I’m liking it much better. This book also has multiple narrators and multiple readers, but it’s got more of a regular pattern to it, which works just fine. The only problem is that one of the CDs is damaged; I’m having to miss maybe 5-10 minutes of the story. I’m liking the book enough I considered buying a paper copy and reading it the regular way, but not having been at a bookstore lately, I haven’t had the chance. We’ll see if I can piece together the story.
I liked the first narrator very much; he’s Leo Gursky, an old man living in New York City, who has only one friend, Bruno, and who is lonely. Leo and Bruno check every day to make sure the other person is still alive. Leo feels so isolated he goes about the city making scenes and being difficult to make sure that people notice him. He doesn’t want to die on a day nobody has seen him. He is so desperate to be seen, he volunteers to be a nude model in a drawing class; he is happy to think that people will be staring at him for hours and creating images of his body. Leo has a wonderfully humorous voice, and the man who reads this section does a wonderful job. After Leo, the book shifts to Alma, a young girl who is trying to find a boyfriend for her depressed mother. We shall see where this book takes me …