Thursday, 5 June 2014

Book review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka (2005)

One star seems a bit uncharitable, but two would definitely be too generous. The annoying thing is there are bits about ASHTU that I liked - well, really only one bit, the father - but it's buried under such a will-to-live-sapping heap of such tedium and bitterness that I can in good conscience only give one star.

Oh the tedium! ASHTU may have dethroned The Glass Bead Game as the most tedious thing I have ever read, and TGBG was at least vaguely nourishing. Imagine that annoying person who sits near you at work telling you a story of at-best middling interest in minute detail over the course of about 5 hours. That's how ASHTU reads: things happen in it that could be interesting or funny, but in Lewycka's telling, they just aren't. There's the odd glimmer of microwaved apples and gloop-stuck jam jars here and there, but they're buried in such an entombing mass of desiccated minutiae and formulaism.

Worse still, everyone except the father is painted in such a negative light by the first-person narrator - who herself, in consequence, comes across worst of all. Even when a bartender recurrs after a gap of a few weeks, he's "really let himself go". Engage negativity pump: spray liberally.

I got the sense that this was all based on real-life events, which could have made a good tale, but that Lewycka (and her editor) had been incapable culling the boring stuff or writing well for anything more than a couple of sentences at a time. The narrator certainly seems very pleased with herself: unlike her poor sister, she got to experience The Beatles and feminism, and turned out oh so liberal and stubborn and rebellious. Except, like hell is she anything other than judgemental like an American judge with an afternoon TV slot is judgemental.

Some of the bits about Ukrainian history were nearly interesting, but I recently read If This Is A Man and The Notebook, and ASHTU can't hold a candle to those in terms of WWII-era power. It can't even limply smear a soggy match down a spent strike pad.

Quite how this was so well received is, in all honesty, completely beyond my fathoming power.

No comments:

Post a Comment