Sunday, July 1, 2007


By Joanna Kavenna
Henry Holt & Company
Reviewed by BadgerDaddy

Before you know anything else about Inglorious, you know that it's beautifully written. From the first page, I admired the writing. The vocabulary is full and expansive, the style flows and you're sucked in. The writing is, in short, excellent.

The story follows Rosa Lane, a journalist who decides, seemingly on a whim, to chuck in her job and find "elightenment." Soon, she has lost her boyfriend and her home, is still seeking some elusive knowledge and seems lost without the traditional anchors most of us have in life. The comfort blankets of routine, work, friends, all gone, and with them her recognition of where she sits in society and the community.

Inglorious is not without problems. The main one is, it's too damn clever. There are many, many references to philosophy, literature, a million references it seems. I was left feeling that some of the book's depth must be flying past me; I'm not a thicky by any means, and it's not often that I get this feeling when reading, but I didn't like it one bit. I almost felt it could have been the author flexing her muscles and showing the world how clever she is, because for a character to be so utterly self absorbed and wrapped up in her own intellect without the practical nous to go and get a job will leave most readers shouting at the pages, and not in a good way. Rosa, our hero, is without work for an indeterminate length of time, and this is really frustrating as a reader. I felt the same reading Prozac Nation, I must admit; I felt like crying out "Stop moaning and get on with it!" instead of feeling any empathy with the character.

I digress.

Underneath Rosa's inner wailing is the map of her breakdown; in its way, Inglorious is a Catcher In The Rye for the modern woman. And there's part of its problem; with its innate cleverness and seemingly being the diary of a breakdown seen from within, where is its target audience? I don't know; I know there are readers out there who will take far, far more from this book that I have, but I don't know how the book will find them. Mind you, they found Catcher in the Rye just fine…

There's a danger for a book like this, that it might end up pushed in bookshops as some kind of chick lit, when it's so much more than that. Inglorious is poorly described on the jacket of the reader's copy as "A darkly comic novel about a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, set against the backdrop of a London awash with faithless lovers, cutthroat strivers and so-called friends." Well, I didn't see a huge amount of dark humour or any other kind, and as for the so-called friends… I think the copywriter for the jacket blurb may have just skimmed the book, as Inglorious is the story of a pretty deeply selfish (and I don't mean that in a negative way) behaviour from a woman who can't begin to deal with grief.

One of the more annoying facets of the book is when the author introduces some really rather significant incident a week after it's happened. You'll be reading what you assume is minutiae, when a spanner is thrown in the works. For example, Rosa is accused of twatting her ex boyfriend's new woman at a party recently, and it had not been mentioned at all in the text. Okay, it was described as "of no consequence" or similar by Rosa, but when it is recounted it is clearly of great significance. That's kind of annoying, like at the start of Lethal Weapon 2 when you discover that Riggs can dislocate his shoulder when he feels like it. Not mentioned in the first movie at all, but right at the start of the second…

Inglorious is worth a read, no question; I didn't like it, but I certainly admired it. The author has written a non-fiction book (The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule) which I'm going to go and hunt down; I have a feeling Kavenna is a superb non-fiction author. At some point in the not-too-distant future, she's going to write some stunning fiction too, but for now, Inglorious is just too smart for its own good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

how can a book be too smart for its own good? Surely what you mean is that it is too smart for you! AS effectively you say - you say you didn't like feeling that it was over your head. But surely that's a good thing in a way, unless you think we should never be stretched at all by what we read, that fiction should always pander to our intelligences, that we should never have our ignorance revealed to us??? I am completely ignorant myself, I mean relatively - I mean I'm not a complete fool but I know there are big ghaps in my knowledge. And I read Inglorious with a sense that a lot of it was just beyond me completely but I liked that- I though 'Oh now I must go and read some Socrates' having always meant to read more Greek philosophers and so on. And when Brigitte Jones is meant to be the great model for women why shouldn't someone write something about a woman who does acutally read things other thaan self-help books and junk magazines? I think there ARE people out there who will appreciate Inglorious, like me and all those other people who are just bored of being patronsied to by rubbish books written with a 'market' in mind. WHy should we constantly be patronised by literary editors who think 'Oh yes all the thickies out there like books about multi-culturalism or people geting divorced, or books about horse whisperers or idiotic thrillers like the da vinci code and so on' and so they churn them out every yera. Hurrah for Kavenna and whoever published her. Let's have more difficult novels, before we all die of intellecutal boredom, that's what I say./...