Seven Explanations Before the Roundup

My 75 Books post for the past two weeks will still have to wait, but in the meantime, one of the books, Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, has been taken up by the remarkable Jenny D. Her verdict: She completely loved it. Again, we have a possible case here of Perlman being misunderstood. But there are easy reasons to love and there are easy reasons to hate the book. I’ll say that I thought Simon, much like all the other cases, an inveterate whiner, and yet an interesting one. I think the biggest point of contention is this: If Simon is an intellectual, why does he not rationalize his way out of loving/stalking Anna, much less kidnapping her son? If you can accept this wild melodramatic premise, then I think you will accept the book. My theory for those who love it and those who hate it: If during some portion of your life you have thought or have been momentarily misguided by such visceral flights, you will “get” it. Perhaps in Australia, where the book was a bestseller, this is more of an unreserved character trait than in lofty New York circles. Then again, reader temperament shouldn’t be a criteria for whether a book is “good” or not.


  1. Well, the one problem with the internet is that it would be better to talk about this over a beer: but I would somewhat revise your central point here, which is to say that I have no problem believing that someone very intelligent and intellectual might be in the grip of an insane obsession that he was incompletely incapable of rationalizing. What I don’t see is why Anna wants him back; it is well described, why she broke up with him in the first place, and I don’t see either the “saving-the-son-from-drowing” thing or the “my-current-husband-is-a-yahoo” thing as sufficient to explain that about-face. (Also I found Joe and Dennis/Mitch the two most appealing narrators. I think Joe would be a better husband than Simon.)

  2. Really? I thought Joe was an interesting though extremely awful and troubled man (the incident with the reporter and his deceit springs immediately to mind), in large part because the guy didn’t have the effrontery to confess what he wanted in life or come to terms with his background. And I agree with you about Dennis. I was most troubled by the Angelique chapter, in which she spends far too much time fawning over how brilliant Simon is. Perlman doesn’t write women especially well.

    As for Simon, I think his appeal is one of the more ambiguous aspects of the book. One of the novel’s mysteries is why these women flock to such a clearly disturbed and miserable person. Then again, some women are drawn naturally to this. The sense I got with Angelique and Anna is that they both come from an abusive past. So they might see Simon as someone to be healed. I was also troubled by Anna’s return to Simon, which seemed to suggest that she was returning to some harmful cycle. But then humans have a tendency to do that.

    I have no problems, per se, with an intelligent person becoming obsessed. I think I don’t completely buy the motivations behind the obsession. When you factor in the ten year period, and when we see (at least from Simon’s perspective) that he really hasn’t done much else but beat himself up, it remains suspect. Even manic depressives, who have wild ups and downs, have their happy moments. With Simon, we really didn’t get one.

    Of course, all criticisms aside, for the most part, I still enjoyed the book.

  3. Oh, yes, I loved it (more I think than you did), I like an enjoyable novel to disagree with now & again! I’d be curious to know how it did sales-wise–I thought it was great, but I think it may be a bit too intellectual for the page-turner crowd and page-turny for the intellectual (plus this doctrinaire liberal hostility towards deconstruction and markets is not necessarily the right note to hit for that crowd). Anyway, I await your further thoughts with interest if you get around to that 75 books post…

  4. I finished the book last night, which is a surprise to me since I’ve vowed to not finish books I don’t love (life being too short and all that). So, no, I didn’t love it but I didn’t quite loathe it either. The book felt loosely done to me. The voices of the characters didn’t ring true to me–especially Angelique–and I did not like the endless dialogue.

  5. I rarely read contemporary novels twice. Yet have just finished my second perusal and found myself speed-reading AGAIN, despite knowing where the plot was going and consciously making an effort to slow down and absorb the wisdom of the characters/author. I think I’ll let it settle a while before my next reading… Fabulous book.

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