Sunday, November 1, 2009

Review: The Lie by Fredrica Wagman

I should start out this review by admitting that there is no style of writing I loathe more than stream of consciousness. This deep loathing started long ago in high school when I came face to face with To the Lighthouse. I read the book, hating every moment of it, left only with a long-standing dislike of the narrative technique. I mean, why do we only seem to get stream of consciousness from disturbed narrators? Are normal characters too boring to have the reader live exclusively inside their heads? Or is it something more insidious at work? Whatever the case, I admit to never having grown past the dislike, not in high school, not in college, and not in grad school. In fact, if a review mentions this type of narration, I quickly head the other direction, without the book in hand. And had I paid more attention and done my research properly, I would have easily discovered that this book is written in stream of consciousness, thereby never having much of a chance with me.

The book opens with young Ramona Smollens sitting on a park bench just after her overbearing and abusive father's unexpected death. Solomon Columbus, an older man attracted to her beauty, sits down next to her and she, alternately fascinated and repulsed by his penis fingers (and no, I still haven't come up with a satisfying visual of how they can be described this way, not that I think I want to), takes him home, sneaks him into her apartment, and proceeds to live and breathe sex with him for several days right under the nose of her cold, judgmental, and emotionally unavailable mother.

Ramona goes on to marry Solomon but her past never quite leaves her behind. As we skate through her disordered thoughts, we learn of her relationship with her creepy father, her inability to enjoy sex, her obessesion and certitude concerning Solomon having an affair, and most of all, her belief, stemming from her earlier adoration of Rita Hayworth that she is seeing the actress who she believes is stalking her in an effort to claim Solomon herself. Ramona is clearly delusional and disturbed and it is completely and totally uncomfortable to be forced into her throughts at almost all times throughout the narration of the story. She is the consummate unreliable narrator even though she is only narrating her version of the truth. Of course, she cannot help but tell some truths, even if inadvertantly, as we find out when Solomon narrates a small section.

Many other readers enjoyed the book and its inevitable end but I disliked Ramona from the get-go and have the aforementioned aversion to stream of consciousness narration and so found the book to be a difficult, unrewarding, and unhappy reading experience. There was a lot of repetition in Ramona's descriptors and while that may indeed be a legitimate portrayal of the way in which a disturbed character's mind works, it did not make for interesting and appealing reading. The unconventional punctuation was difficult to adjust to and that, coupled with the completely non-linearity of Ramona's thoughts sounded the death knell for me with this book. It is a very slim book and yet it took far more time to read than I ever would have expected. Not my kind of book but those who enjoy stream of consciousness would definitely start out on a better foot wit this than I did.

Thanks to Julie at FSB Associates for sending me a review copy of this book.


  1. I don't hate stream of consciousness quite as much as you (I liked To the Lighthouse, for example), but it's a hard sell for me. And a harder sell with disturbed people.

    Do you have a lot of leftover candy? I'm thinking of seeding pots around my neighborhood in an attempt to get myself to try jogging.

  2. I too, had trouble with THE LIE.
    Honestly, I think if I had to read about Solomon's fingers one more time - I would have burned the darn book!

  3. Yes, that's it! I haven't tried this book, but when I think back to the books I really struggled with they're the same narrative style. Drives me crazy.


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