Sphinx by Anne Garreta translated by Emma Ramadan
3/4 stars depending
This book was suggested by another writer/reader friend. Since I wrote a character who looked, acted, and over all seemed genderless, this book came up. This book is an Oulipo. It is written with a constraint in mind. And genderless people in French are probably near impossible for most to write. I have basic knowledge of the language, and like most Latin based languages, gender is a huge role in writing.
Basic background to the side, I have key marks to make. This reads much as Atlas Shrugged or Siddhartha for me. Now I liked Siddhartha’s thought heavy prose, where it didn’t quite feel like fiction and yet is. I could not read Atlas Shrugged. Something about it hit my nerves wrong. I know some would hand it out like candy, but I turned away. For those who like thought heavy, this would probably do well.
It’s not big into description <and for good reason since adjectives get gendered>. I had no idea A*** was black until the situations where that became focus. But you cannot write ‘She/he is black’ in French without saying female or male. The way it was taken was whites and blacks cannot mixed. Beautifully done to interject description without ruining the gender neutral-ness.
Most Americans who read have read Catcher in the Rye. Not my favorite, never was. It annoyed me to no end. It was like I was watching an antsy teen throwing his life away. This story is a higher level of a similar note. The main character (I, or in the original je) is a social outcast from high society. He spies no differences between a high class play and the sleazy clubs he visits. Without the snobbery of high society, he would never truly fit. And without the low class vices or background, the backstreets do not persuade him to truly join. Thus he leans to the Church, where he takes off and on throughout the book college courses in theology.
You noticed I switched to he to describe the main character. Good catch. Whether the author wanted to or not, the character has a note of masculinity that cannot be ignored. And being a book written in the 1980s, I would assume based off of statistics this MC is male. But, it is only an assumption. Without genders, I would get marked masculine in personality, but clearly I am female. And his lover whoever they is remains personality-less. She/he was written that way. Given the job A*** has I would say female just because at the time they were more likely, but males were not unheard of in any sense.
I feel like I am more off topic than usual. And I cannot decide if that is good or not. What would be considered the pros of the book? Well defined main character without forcing gender roles? Well organized plot that starts with absence of life and ends with absence of it? A style of writing that does not falter even when others would fade?
Then what of the cons? I’m not sure. The length suits the story. The side characters truly remain as they are expected. The plot has a steady rhythm to it not rushing or weakening at any point. The words were grandiose, but due to the MC, who is an intellectual and the type to flaunt it, even if only in his mind, it’s not strange. Why do I consider this not a five? That would be the con. And I think it’s more not everyone can relate to the book. Its reason and purpose are there, plain and simple. But without a strong ability to read or a vast understanding of life, this book can go right over people’s head.
Pros: Well defined MC, with lacking other characters due to the MC’s personality; well maintained plot; limited side plots; excellent use of constraint; strong conclusion that leaves you thinking;
Cons: confusion as to time; desire to put the book down from weighted thought;