Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review: Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

Surreal, confusing, draining, stilted, hyperreality, posturing, self-consciously clever and ultimately unsatisfying. These are just some of the words that immediately come to mind as I sit here trying to articulate my feelings about this book. For a different reader, one who enjoys postmodernism or post-postmodernism, perhaps these words would add up to a more enjoyable reading experience than they did for me.

Superficially, the novel opens with psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein's assertion that his wife has been replaced with a simulacum, one who is so close to the original that only the most astute (his) observation could prove otherwise. Ostensibly, the reader is supposed to be clever enough to follow and accept his arguments as truth as well. And so Leo, after failing to convince this doppelganger to admit to her complicity in his real wife's disappearance, takes off on a mission to find the real Rema. His peripatetic journeyings are driven by signs he finds in the scientific (mind numbingly so) writings of meteorologist Tzvi Gal-Chen and by his disappeared pyschiatric patient Harvey, who believes that he controls the weather in his role as a secret agent.

The secondary characters are essentially incidental to the story, even Rema herself, as Leo's thoughts and feelings reign supreme here, even if the reader has determined that he is suffering from a mental illness (Capgras Syndrome for anyone curious enough to research it). Is this an appropriate conclusion on this reader's part? I can't say for certain but it made Leo slightly more sympathetic to me and so I had to go with it. Because honestly, aside from feeling that the main character was fairly delusional and therefore pitiable, I wasn't engaged by the story at all. It was, quite simply, tedious reading. I understood the line blurring going on between reality and perception and the juxtaposition between the scientific and the emotional but none of this questioning within the framework of a very slight story made for an appealing read. A book which isn't immediately accessible is not necessarily bad but it isn't automatically elevated into the pantheon of worthy and complex writing either, a place to which this particular book seems to aspire too graspingly. Obviously I didn't love this book but there certainly are loads of academicians and much higher brow reviewers who think it's all that and a bag of chips so look widely at the reviews before coming to any conclusions. As for me though, I'm sticking with my assessment: "The emperor's naked."

Thanks to Picador for sending me a review copy of this book.


  1. Sounds a bit like Liar with all the fun taken out. Try that one instead, for a book where you wonder how sane the protagonist is.

  2. Your first sentence is so telling :)

    Sorry this did not live up to your expectations. (I had never heard of it so I probably would not have read it anyways). Hope your next pick is more of a pleaser, Kristen.


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