Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore

Do you ever run across something that makes you feel old? Hannah Tennant-Moore's novel Wreck and Order was one of those things. I was intrigued by the premise before reading it but I spent much of the novel wanting to shake some sense and motivation into the self-destructive, annoying, and thoroughly unlikable main character. Obviously this does not bode well for my eventual overall impression.

Elsie is a thirty-something young woman who drops out of college and thereafter coasts on the money her father gives her. She is intermittently translating an obscure French novel, which is somehow supposed to reinforce her own (misguided) idea that she is intelligent and special. But her navel gazing narration of an unmoored life lived as a series of destructive sexual encounters or, when not actively engaged in those encounters, fantasizing about them, makes the reader question any implication of intelligence previously granted. Elsie connects with a lying, cheating, boozy boyfriend who becomes an obsession in her life, the man she returns to again and again. At one point when she has broken free of Jared, she is too bored by her colorless (a synonym for violence-free to Elsie) sex life with the normal man she's met so she sabotages their life together. At another point she travels to Sri Lanka and stays with Suriya, a young woman she intends to help achieve her dream of teaching English. And yet even in this trip, which just highlights over and over again her self-centered preoccupation, ennui, and unpleasantness, Elsie can't maintain an interest in this poor girl and her family, ending up treating Suriya as an embarrassing and disposable project she can just abandon rather than as a human being she should care about.

Perhaps Elsie's character as written would be forgivable if the book had been more interesting all around. Instead, she is a caricature of a vapid, spoiled millennial and who wants to read about that? Self-destructive characters can be worth reading about if they serve a greater purpose. Elsie does not. Character and plot are both aimless. The erstwhile philosophical pieces were tiresome, overblown, and filled with circular ramblings that didn't actually mean anything if you took the time to parse them out. I think the book is meant to come off as profound but sadly, it only came off as profoundly boring. Then again, maybe it will appeal to readers a generation younger than me who can more readily connect with the Elsies of the world. But if this is their reality, I have to say I pity them.

Thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Coming out in April: The Romance Reader's Guide to Life: A Novel, has pirates in it, tangentially.


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