Trash-talking at book group

Book in recycling bin.You know that the book group discussion is going to be intriguing when the person who recommended the book starts off by apologizing to everyone for her suggestion. Relief is the first reaction among the group because even though we always speak our minds, we don’t want to be too hard on our friends. At least not before they have a chance to explain themselves. The second reaction is the expression of utter loathing for this book. Not one single positive comment.

It seems that it’s a case of misrepresentation. The book purports to be the story of a young American woman discovering herself in Africa in the 70s. But the content and the style have us fuming. And though most of us have not finished it – we couldn’t bear it – our opinions are strong and damning.

The book is Mating by Norman Rush in case you want to make up your own mind. It has been praised by every major reviewer and promoted as an “expansive novel of high intellect and grand passion [about] an American anthropologist at loose ends in the South African republic of Botswana”. Sounds promising, no? Let’s just say that Mr. Rush’s conceit of writing from the point of view of a woman does not work. The protagonist is supposed to be brilliant and throws around many long words (you know the ones they tell you not to use when you’re actually trying to communicate something). She sprinkles her narrative with foreign phrases for no good reason – “I invited him chez-moi.” Why? She’s in Botswana! Then she falls for a complete narcissist who is setting up a utopian paradise where he is the only male. She never grasps this is a bad idea.

Our irritation grows when we hear that Rush’s wife has spent her marriage completely devoted to him and his work and that in a recent interview he informs a reporter that she’s off doing “frau” work. Shades of the subservient relationship he writes about.

But enough of the book review. The fortunate outcome of the evening was a passionate discussion of how much we disliked the book. We spent much more time expressing ourselves at this meeting than we had in a long time. This surprised most of us (should we pick more books we’re likely to hate?) No, we’re optimists all and always forgive any book group member who picks a stinker, especially when she apologizes first.

– Miria Ioannou

Reviews we read