Title: The Idiot
Author: Elif Batuman
Rating: 5 / 5
I picked this up for the Tournament of Books; it’s one of three “campus novels” that may earn a spot in the brackets. Even though I haven’t read the others, I’m kind of hoping this one will win.
The story is told in the first person by Selin, a freshman at Harvard and the daughter of immigrants. It’s 1995 and email is this cool new thing that you can only access from certain computers. What is the “story”? There isn’t one, so much. It’s one of those books that gets accused of not having a plot. I never hold plotlessness against books if there are other things to keep my interest, and in this case there’s definitely enough to like.
This book was hilarious. I was surprised and not expecting it. Books rarely make me laugh, but this one kept me chucking the whole way through. And, it’s smart. It’s one of those books where “nothing happens,” but really, so much is happening, and it just ends up representing life better than neat endings or even tidy stories. I found one part of it to drag, but for other readers, this section was their favorite bit; and, really, if it was dragging along for me, it definitely was for the narrator too. Sometimes I like it when authors do things like that, sometimes I don’t; overall, I think it worked really well in this book.
Not everyone is going to like this one, but some people (like me) are going to love it. It’s kind of made me want to study literature, read more about how it works, get a strong background in “the canon” or whatever. I love any book that makes me so curious.