Guten tag, my sweet, schmackhaft strudels! How goes it on your little island of misery? Here on Isla Robyn, the population has been struggling with a severe outbreak of incurable Tarantism. Send help. (And cake. And kittens. And Khal Drogo.)
Aaaaaaaaaaaaanyway. This week I’m talking about a book I’ve wanted to read for ages but only recently bit the bullet and bought with my many mountains of honestly earned cash money.
It’s Alexis M. Smith’s Glaciers. How do you feel about the cover? It makes me want to gouge out my eyes. Or maybe I’m being overly dramatic?
No, I think I’m being completely rational. To be fair, I guess it is kind of relevant to the book, but then again, does relevance really matter when it’s also ass-ugly? These are the great questions of our age, my friends. Onward!
The Deal: “Isabel is a single, twentysomething thrift-store shopper and collector of remnants, things cast off or left behind by others. Glaciers follows Isabel through a day in her life in which work with damaged books in the basement of a library, unrequited love for the former soldier who fixes her computer, and dreams of the perfect vintage dress move over a backdrop of deteriorating urban architecture and the imminent loss of the glaciers she knew as a young girl in Alaska.
Glaciers unfolds internally, the action shaped by Isabel’s sense of history, memory, and place, recalling the work of writers such as Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, and Virginia Woolf. For Isabel, the fleeting moments of one day can reveal an entire life. While she contemplates loss and the intricate fissures it creates in our lives, she accumulates the stories—the remnants—of those around her and she begins to tell her own story.”
Robyn says: So… um. This was a book. Hoo-boy. Here we go.
Being a punk-ass book jockey myself, I have a weakness for fiction featuring librarian heroines. I also have a weakness for soldier love-interests because, to quote Dr Peter Venkman, who wouldn’t? So I thought a book featuring two of my preferred types of book-nip (a portmanteau I have just ingeniously coined at this very moment to refer to book catnip, trademark pending, bitches) would be a guaranteed READ IT. Right? RIGHT?
I guess the best way to put it is to say that I liked the idea of this book more than I liked the book itself. It was… well, pretentious is a harsh word. So is anemic. And pointless. And boring. So let’s just say it was pretty goddamn wanky, which is basically all of those things rolled into one cheeky sounding bit of Britishishness.
The jacket copy pretty much gives it away. Isabel is a “collector of remnants, things cast off or left behind by others” – so… she’s a fucking antiques collector. Like everyone and their mum these days, right? But nope, this is literary fiction, goddammit, so all the things have to also MEAN THINGS because metaphors and symbolism and other words from your English Lit 101 syllabus introduction. She “dreams of the perfect vintage dress” while attempting to endure her “unrequited love for [a] former soldier.” So like if Zooey Deschanel was in a Nicholas Sparks movie? (Okay, I’d probably watch that movie. Shut up, you would, too.) All of this takes place over a single day, by the way, because why not? There is also lots of “deteriorating urban architecture” to mirror not only the melting Alaskan glaciers but also her life because METAPHORS, METAPHORS, SO MANY METAPHORS—
Seriously, though, I think most elements of Smith’s novel left a lot to be desired in terms of execution. The whole thing felt hollow. Take Isabel – by the end of the novel, I knew a lot about her but I wouldn’t say that I knew her, do you know what I mean? Like if your grandma is describing one of her neighbour-enemies. You know where they went to high school and what shoe size they wear and the name of their grandson’s best friend’s dog, but not much about what they’re like as people. As a reader who values rich, well-rounded, interesting characters over every other part of a story, I finished this book feeling very underwhelmed. The two supporting characters, Leo and Spokes (the love interest) were way more vibrant than Isabel.
The story itself was another personal literary cluster-cuss. I don’t think it’s a spoiler if I tell you that NOTHING F*CKING HAPPENS. And when shit does happen, it happens sooooooo slooooooowly. My god. I wanted to claw my face off. But mind you, it is mostly things not happening. It is literally the internal monologue a librarian walking around all day, doing very little librarianing I might add, oscillating between memories of her childhood and swoony thoughts of her co-worker and crush, Spokes. And then, when things might actually start to happen, and lips begin to pout in preparation for the long-awaited kiss, turns out that nope, Spokes is leaving and Isabel is probably doomed to spend the rest of her days as a lonely spinster with only her books and her cat to keep her going one loveless day after the next. (Yes, she has a cat – of course she has a cat.)
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.
Don’t you dare, book. Don’t you dare hint at a happy ending to this insipid romance that might actually redeem this book, then just be all JOKE, NOPE, DENIED, SORRY, SONNY-JIM. I mean, COME ON. Haven’t we librarians suffered enough?
Despite its many flaws, this book wasn’t a complete waste of my precious, precious time. Its one redeeming factor, in my opinion, was the writing. Smith hasn’t got a clue about how to craft a compelling narrative, but the lady can string together words real purdy-like. When Isabel is at a party and observes two guests flirting, she describes them as “leaning together now, one against the other, like fallen columns in ancient ruins.” Isn’t that lovely? There are lots of beautiful, little phrases like this peppered throughout the book, though I’m sure I missed a few of them when soul-crushing boredom forced me to start skimming.
Verdict: Don’t read it. Unless maybe you’re mad at yourself for something (like, I dunno, being stupid enough to get a master’s degree in an increasingly redundant field).
Best lines: Okay, there were some I really liked. Here’s the owner of the vintage store telling Isabel what kinds of dresses end up in her store: “It’s never the wedding dresses, you know. We keep those, too, but only because they’re so blooming expensive. No. I’ve seen enough old ladies’ closets to know what we really hold on to. Not the till-death-do-us-part dresses. It’s those first lovely dresses: the slow dance dresses, the good-night-kiss dresses. It’s those first pangs we hold on to.” But the only that really made me laugh was “What kind of moron wants to be a gladiator?”
Rating: Two and half melting glaciers. IT’S A METAPHOR.
Book Cat, whatchya reading?
Goddamn it, T. Now I’m going to have to a BDB marathon re-read. What a hardship…