An Epic Novel About Obsessive Love In An Age Of Obsessive Materialism, Seven Types Of Ambiguity Is At Once A Psychological Thriller, A Social Critique, And A Literary Adventure Of Breathtaking ScopeIt Is A Story Of Impulse And Paralysis, Empty Marriages, Lovers, Gambling, And The Stock Market Of Adult Children And Their Parents Of Poetry And Prostitution, Psychiatry And The Law By Turns Comic, Poetic, And Dramatic, It Is, Above All, A Novel That Speaks With Unforgettable Force About Obsessive And Redemptive Love Seven Types Of Ambiguity Is Told By Seven Different Narrators Whose Lives Are Entangled In Unexpected Ways After Years Of Unrequited Love, A Lonely Schoolteacher Decides To Take Matters Into His Own Hands To Win Back A Woman He Lost Long Ago, And Thereby Triggers A Chain Of Events That Neither He Nor His Psychiatrist Could Have Anticipated Brimming With Emotional, Intellectual And Moral Dilemmas, This Novel Reminiscent Of Th Century Fiction In Its Labyrinthine Complexity And Social Commentary Unfolds At A Rapid Fire Pace To Reveal The Full Extent To Which These People Have Been Affected By One Another And By The Insecure And Uncertain Times In Which They Live Our Times, Now A Colossal Achievement, A Complicated, Driven Marathon Of A Book In A Sense, Every Character In The Book Is On Trial And There Is As Much Tension As In The Best Courtroom Drama At The End, In A Comprehensive, Almost Shakespearean Way, Perlman Picks Up Every Loose Thread And Knots It The Observer UK If I d had to guess, I would have said tour de force is one of those expressions we use, but the French don t Not that we do use it, it s one of those expressions you can t use because it s been watered down in that way, you know The coffee is awesome That kind of way.To my surprise, however, I see this book, which the French love, described by them as a tour de force I can t help thinking that when the French use this expression they probably don t mean it is a trivial thing, slightly better than another comparable trivial thing.I was reading what the French have to say about Perlman because he is regularly described as being one of the 50 most important writers in the world a tag accorded him by Lire magazine I couldn t find that when I looked at their site But they clearly adore him, as do the Germans His second novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity, was a national bestseller in France where it was described as one of the best novels of recent years, a complete success Le Monde In Germany it was called a literary sensation Deutschlandradio , an impressive, iridescent all encompassing view of feeling Der Spiegel , and described as having the virtues of the great modern European novel S ddeutsche Zeitung So good, his work could be considered European Thus does a blatantly Australian writer arrive.How about in Australia The SMH, in an interview, observed of this novel that it has also brought him extravagant praise he has not quite yet won here I guess I have to fess up I ve never read any of his books, though I did see the movie of his first and it was terrific I m making up for it, the others will be read soon.Australians may take for granted this writer who has electrified the world with his work, but of the many awards and accolades Seven Types of Ambiguity has received, I wonder if one that would sit best with the author is The Queensland Premier s award for Advancing Public Debate Here is a man who cares, Elliot Perlman, he cares passionately and he does not disguise that for one moment This book is a moving indictment of white first world attitudes, the ones that have forgotten any sense of common good and are all about get for me, me, me In some writers you d be relieved that he got away with this, that it didn t spoil a good yarn, but Perlman is so good he has you all but weeping with disgust at the way you live whilst utterly unable to put down a book which has a plot, characters, dialogue, clever construction and technique.For several days in a row I did almost nothing but sit with all 607 pages in two point font There are times when I feel bad that I give so many books 3 stars that others give generously to But then, every now and again a book comes along that is so obviously so superior that I remember why I save up 5 stars In fact, right now what I think I m going to do is review my 5 star ratings, just to make sure the others are worthy enough to be in the company of this book It s that good. I wasn t really counting, but seven is a plausible tally for the types of ambiguity put forth here I bet a lot of novels these days feature that many just to maintain their modern lit cred What s unambiguous is that there were seven parts to the book with seven different narrators, each with a key part of the story to tell It centers around Simon who is still madly in love with Anna, an ex girlfriend who broke up with him 10 years ago He s a hopeless romantic, but one infused with enough sensitivity, insight, and empathy that I m pretty sure we re meant to like him this, despite his truly stupid ploy to win Anna back I won t spoil anything by saying what he did exactly, but will say that it was a risky, ill conceived plan that involved her school aged son.It s a long and ambitious book Perlman should be credited for the homework he did to make his assorted narrators seem believable This involved a working knowledge of psychology, finance, gambling, and prostitution There was a trial, too, which played to an already existing strength Perlman is a barrister in his native Australia I liked the way the seven different parts were structured Each advanced the plot, but with overlap from one to the next The different perspectives on the same events were revealing, and helped make the voices distinct I see that some reviewers have criticized the multifold narration for its lack of contrast, and that may be true, but at least the most noticeable attribute they shared was an appealing one acute vision and understanding This struck me as a book about how to be We re given plenty of examples of idealism, loyalty, and social conscience, along with a few slightly less lofty attributes like readiness to protect turf, chutzpah, and the benefits of calculating well financial outcomes, cards, and people s reactions There s a lot to think about here I might have even given it Steve s 5 Star Seal of Special Merit were it not for a few annoying cases ofDeus ex machina and overcooked coincidence One was particularly bad, I thought With no reason to suspect, a wife wanted to know if her cheating husband s prostitute had committed a particular act involving corporeal gold nothing to do with her heart, mind you and not exactly a common practice As it turns out, she had, but with a medical explanation My other reason for docking a star is that I was reminded at times while reading it that the writer is a lawyer a profession that involves lots of words, but not always ones destined for good prose. I went into this with low expectations, expectations I m now slightly ashamed of, since they were born of prejudice Never having heard of it made me feel like it wouldn t be good ridiculous , and with the comparisons to Roth and Franzen, I expected prose that was unimpeachable but not exciting and an ambitious story that failed to deliver But Seven Types of Ambiguity is actually great Simon, the protagonist, kidnaps the son of an ex girlfriend though this isn t ever directly dramatized , and the rest of the novel explores the ways in which this influences the lives of everyone Simon is even remotely connected with And each of the seven sections of the book is narrated by a different character This sounds lame and or gimmicky, but it works Perlman gives us the narrators that we d want, and none of the sections belong to children or animals Most of the sections bear directly on Simon s story, too, so you never spend too much time talking about details that aren t important The writing style is good, but without pyrotechnics Perlman is a lawyer excuse me, barrister and you can see that from his prose There s plenty of subordinate clauses and tortured syntax and far removed antecedents etc in his sentences, so they re complex without using any words that might send you to the dictionary For example even a sterile marriage, one in which the husband gets warmth from the prostitute he visits regularly than from his wife, one in which the wife has been too successful in utterly repudiating everything she used to be before she managed to get everything her parents had taught her she would ever want Does it all work Of course not Perlman has a number of irritating tendencies I feel obligated to mention First, he seems to have a need to impress with either his research or his background knowledge, as if he s saying, Look how much I know about law And casino blackjack And escort services And psychiatry And Billie Holiday And deconstructionism Not kidding about that last one we really do get a several page intro to deconstruction Sigh Second, his characters are pretty often types, like, as Paul Bryant pointed out, the tart with a heart of gold Or the tortured psychotherapist, which, third, there s psychotherapy in this than any good book should be able to contain Fourth, Perlman goes out of his way to make sure his characters lives are pathetic enough to tug at the heartstrings Is character A not as unhappy as she should be Let s give her MS Is character B having too much fun in prison How bout some rape And let s get a round of clinical depression for everyone But Perlman pulls it off For one thing, he can really write, and for another, he really cares about his characters If either of those weren t true, my guess is that Seven Types of Ambiguity would be a complete failure But they are, and I thought it was great, and a surprisingly quick read, and I d recommend it with almost no reservations. Akira Korosawa s film Rashomon is about a crime that is witnessed by several individuals who all have credible but polarized viewpoints of the event SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY is an intellectual Rashomonian potboiler, a colossal coil of colliding and deviating entanglements However, we KNOW how the crime occurred But do we really know who is guilty, beyond the obvious defendant It is a world of contrasts and overlaps, of paradoxes and semblances, of poetry and corporate shenanigans, gambling and grumbling, prostitution and restitution, love and lust, betrayal and fidelity, infidelity and incorruptibility, obsession and distraction, and perhaps the kitchen sink.This book is a courtroom thriller, a love story, a social inquiry, and a study of manners It is structured with seven narrators whose lives intersect in surprising and stunning twists and twisted knots The opulent story is situated in Australia, in the state of ambiguity It is bold, with brazen characters and a show stopping plot.Seven narrators share the story, and each has only one section of narrative Some narrators have twice as many pages as others, but all have a tremendous impact on the reader You see it one way, and then the next narrator s perspective shifts the kaleidoscope a notch or two, substantiating the ambiguity evident in the previous viewpoint while cross examining each character s version of clarity.It opens with a middle aged psychiatrist, Alex Klima, a transgressive therapist whose lack of boundaries violates every code of therapeutic ethics imaginable, and yet whose voice and unfathomable empathy is as humane as his breach is abominable He is the central protagonist s psychiatrist and friend, although it is really of an ensemble, the central protagonist, Simon, is the one on trial the one who visits Simon daily in jail and remains his closest confidante up and through the trial.Simon has been arrested for kidnapping the son of his ex girlfriend, a woman he hasn t even spoken to in ten years, but he is in psychic bondage, because his love for her won t stop He is a schoolteacher who was laid off during the downsizing of mercenary Australia that stemmed from all the economic disasters that ensued after the collapse and entropy of global corruptions and end stage capitalism He is a poet and intellectual, whose dog Empson was named for the author of the book that the title of this book is poached from Simon lives by the ideology of Empson s 1930 literary analysis of language the principles of Empson are Simon s articles of faith.According to Empson, there is such depth of meaning in words that there are complex and confounding interpretations of poetry linguistics, that each verbal thrust contains highly interpretive subtleties This concept wraps itself around the story, also, both generally and specifically, in a myriad of ways that are best left to the reader to discover.The other five characters fuel this marathon of a book with such driven force and depth that I was literally sweating and weeping by the denouement The final, short section s narrator is a dramatic surprise that does than weld together the characters and story it transforms it Everyone in the book is on trial, and so is the whole human race We are all guilty of ambiguity And this book gave me hope that we all testify to humanity. I love long books Most who know me know that I am a pretentious, pretentious man I don t love long books because I am pretentious and long books make me look smart I am pretentious because I explain why I am and why I am not pretentious see, I ve proven my point I love long books because they generally do a better job of capturing the complexity of life This rule does not apply to all books that I love Action adventure or fantasy stories should only include, as William Goldman puts it, the good parts The Seven Types of Ambiguity deals with the life decisions of many characters, but circles around one character in particular The story progresses through seven characters points of view and this is where the complexity is truly compelling, because we all believe ourselves to be the hero of the story, but we may be supporting casts or the villain in other stories and never know it This book is an eye opener that is gorgeously written and is very satisfying for those looking for a complex, but plot driven novel. I m not worthy of reviewing a book like this Really Seven Types of Ambiguity is huge, both physically and contextually Read this book if You like Rashomon like explorations of the subjective nature of truth You like overlapping narratives that do to obfuscate a given event than illuminate it Deep characterization is your bag You have ever harbored even a passing interest in critical theory You love Billie Holliday You are are passionate about health care issues this book explores Australia s shift to managed health care.Do not read this book if You like morally unambiguous characters who are always on their best behavior You have a short attention span You hate ambiguity and, really, the title should tip you off there You like concrete, big red bow endings.What else can I say, really Final Analysis A book that acts like a fine wine is hard to find this one is such a book It keeps getting better after it is finished being read a very well written work, it is magnanimous, comprehensive, lyrical, and prosaically refined, with a sharp eye on bringing out the depths of the normal The only fault remains what I have referred to before and will, I think, call voice narration displacement I think I may have discerned that Perlman in fact wrote parts 1, 5, 6 and 7 immediately based upon his intial impetus, and later wrote parts 2 4 in the name of character development Though these middle parts could seem to some to be fluff and overlap than necessary, and some of it did read much like an intro that was two paragraphs too long This, and the lines of thought can be a little random or convoluted This last bit I do not believe is intentional, given the author s usual choice of diction.It is indeed worth staying with, though I would not recommend a purchase unless someone by default enjoys epic narrative and finds after looking into it that they already identify with one of the characters well enough It is true that the work becomes inherently easier and desirable to read as one continues I actually enjoy it and with each day that has passed after I finished it If I could, 4.5 stars What follows is the gradual breakdown I gave it, because of how long it took to read it 8 25 07 Only being about a quarter of the way through the book, I am enjoying it I get the feeling that at times the author has confused authorial narration aka third person with character narration aka first person , so that it sounds as if the character who is supposed to be talking to me is actually infused or even supplanted by the type of narration I would expect from a third person perspective In other words, I don t hear the character s voice as much as I hear details about the character s experience and life, which could be equally accomplished by third person voicing the whole way through instead of seeming to intersperse the two Perhaps this is intended and I will understand of why this is as I continue9 6 07 Page 385 I have actually found it a relief to find that I am in this section, since the others were not as directly related Although, I do find that every once in a while a certain hint or two suggests itself beneath the flurry of pages a clever trick to employ given the nature of the work 9 7 07 Done with Part Five Assessment An excellent job of character confusion There is also a slight recognition that given the author s choice about the length of the novel, the actual use of it is well done, though it is still too early to say as such for the whole novel The interweaving of multiple threads of possibilty was also good for keeping things fresh. This is one of my top fave favorite books It is an ambitious undertaking, but the author succeeds beautifully The story centers around one major event, as told from the viewpoint of seven different people who were all involved in the event It doesn t just tell the event over and over again but deals with what leads up to it and what follows it depending on which narrator you are dealing with Because the author chooses to divide the book into seven distinct part, by narrator, there is no confusing jumping between narrators so you always know who are with The language is lush and beautiful The characters are real and flushed out and it s just a very well written story about the tragedies and difficulties that so often accompany the human condition It s a long book.600 or so pages I believe, which some people find daunting But it is well worth the effort and not a book you will soon forget. Deduct one star for yet another version of the tart with the heart of gold That male fantasy has legs than a centipede.
Elliot Perlman is an Australian author and barrister He has written two novels and one short story collection His work condemns the economic rationalism that destroys the humanity of ordinary people when they are confronted with unemployment and poverty This is not surprising in a writer who admires Raymond Carver and Graham Greene because they write with quite a strong moral centre and a st
- 640 pages
- Seven Types of Ambiguity
- Elliot Perlman
- 04 October 2018 Elliot Perlman