To Siberia: A Review
I thought it would be fitting.
First, because I was reading back on my old posts and I came to one that I liked and it was a movie review of 2 Days in Paris. Second, what I know of Siberia is a cold and desolate landscape that brings to mind banishment, isolation and a probable lack of computers and blogging. In the reader’s mind, with the subtlest and most delicate of strokes, hopefully there begins to appear a faint and as yet timorous and shimmering image. A vague, and vaguely Russian, landscape enters the reader’s mind, and in this landscape form a fierce tundra, very white, perhaps a black lake or too, the smell of potatoes and cabbage simmering in an iron kettle, a solitary figure wrapped in skins and no computer anywhere. Perhaps a prison laborer digs a trench in chains nearby. Perhaps that prison laborer is me. But perhaps not. This is all to say that the title creates a nice sense of tension and intrigue and dare I hope leniency in welcoming the blogger back, perhaps with a hot toddy and furred mantle in hand.
Third and most importantly, I am a fan of Russian writers and even Danish writers who write about Danes harboring Russian aspirations. I myself am an American harboring Russian aspirations, and I believe a common pine can forge wide rivers. This is why – even though I think most of my writing turns out to sound like I’m a scriptwriter for a kind of movie I profess to hate – I find much common ground with novelist Per Petterson’s writing, who wrote To Siberia.
Per Petterson’s style is a lot like mine, if I do say so. I hear echoes of myself when I read him, but differently than I do when I read Dostoevksy. I enjoy Dostoevsky so much because reading him is like entering your own mind with a much higher wattage torch than you are used to entering yourself with. Of course, with Dostoevksy that torch is invariably blown out totally and irrevocably in the final pages and you sink into the eternal nighttime of the doomed human condition, but it is thrilling to have had everything so illuminated up til then. This is especially the case in The Idiot, which I read just before reading this book.
My opinion of great literature, and of the best of my writing when I feel I am hitting the chip just right is that it makes the reader feel he or she could have been able to come up with just that thought. This is because great thoughts are not so rare as one would think. The articulation of great thoughts should be lauded far more than the thinking of them. Everyman can think a great thought, but it is a very rare talent that can articulate a great thought and do it justice. This thought is not a great thought in itself, many people have thought and also articulated this.
But it is Per Petterson’s writing style and not his thoughts that I find similar to my own. I enjoyed his novel Out Stealing Horses especially. I enjoyed the narration, I enjoyed the nonlinear style, I enjoyed the story very much and I enjoyed the cover of the book immensely. I didn’t think To Siberia was a very good book. It starts off strong, with clean imagery evoking the powerlessness of childhood, and the way in which children are as imprisoned by the fickleness of grownups as they are to the laws of physics. This is where my delight ends (around page 2). The rest of the book flitters neither here nor there in storyline and imagery. It hangs a flimsy and patchwork cloth over what it assumes to be a frame sturdy enough to work as both the frame and the filling: the Allure of a salty and poor coastal town, the Chemistry between an attractive and kind older brother and younger sister, the Tension of encroaching war. But Petterson does not fill the sails. The heroine sort of wants to have sex with her brother, but doesn’t; she sort of wants to go to Siberia, but doesn’t; she travels between vaguely gray and salty Nordic coastal towns; she sleeps with a cast of men the author half-pulls from the clay – genitals first – in order to give our heroine, along with a few remarks about her hair – it is long, dark, toussled and remarked upon, and her figure – it is lovely, some glimmerings of sexuality.
The cover of this book is also very nice as it was put out by the same publishers as put out the other novel, and so are the first few pages. The character of Jesper, the older brother, starts off intriguing, but quickly succumbs to what I can only imagine was the salty, gritty dark-haired boy who sat next to Per Petterson in his fifth form and for whom Per Petterson never got over his infatuation sufficiently to talk to and learn that he, too, was a man with a man’s complexities. About as complex as an Abercrombie & Fitch ad for The Socialist Party . Though the book is written in first person, perhaps to hurdle the difficulty of a male author writing a female lead character, it does not add any intimacy.
And what does it matter, after all? Not much. Save your fourteen dollars and buy a sandwich or Out Stealing Horses which was very good. You all will know by now that I just needed a chance to write a little bit, and that is what I am doing.