Saturday, 19 December 2015

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers **Review**

Dying to Know You
Series: None
Pages: 288
Publisher: Definitions
Release date: 2nd May 2013
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

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Goodreads synopsis:
Karl, aged seventeen, is hopelessly in love. But the object of his affections, Firella, demands proof, and poses him a series of questions regarding his attitude to the many sides of love. But Karl is dyslexic, and convinced that if Firella finds out, she will think he is stupid, and unworthy of her, and leave him.

So Karl asks a local writer to help him construct his replies - and an unlikely, but extremely touching, friendship develops between the two men. They both come to learn a great deal about about life from a very different perspective, and when an act of violence shatters their calm, they find their respective appraisal of life shifting in profound ways.

Dying to Know You is perhaps most unique in the way it has been written. When I first read the synopsis, I expected it to be from the point of view of the teenage boy, but it isn't. The entire story is written from the point of view of a 75-year-old man – a writer – and it soon becomes clear that the novel itself is supposed to be a kind of fictional non-fiction.

Whereas I think this is a good idea in theory, I'm not sure it worked as well as it could have done. Yes, I felt I got to know the narrator – the old man writer – fairly well, but the point of the story, I felt, was to get to know all of the characters, particularly the young man he is helping, Karl, and Karl's girlfriend Fiorella (this is the correct spelling of her name from the book, despite the Goodreads synopsis above spelling it in a different way).
I felt as though I was merely being told facts about Karl and what was going on with Fiorella, rather than getting to discover these things about him for myself. Because of this I ended up feeling quite disconnected from the characters and didn't care for them in the way I feel I was supposed to.

This happened especially with Fiorella, who I didn't feel I knew very well at all, despite all that had been said about her, and when we did finally 'meet' her, first through emails and then through the eyes of the narrator (who is named so scarcely named that I don't actually remember his name, despite having only finished the book yesterday), I found that I didn't like her at all.
And on the subject of her emails that she wrote to the narrator, she didn't feel quite real to me. She's supposed to be still in school, and although her age isn't mentioned, I'm assuming she's around 17. But she doesn't talk like a 17 year old ... "I'm really really agog to know" ... what 17 year old speaks like this? I wasn't convinced of her at all, I'm afraid to say.

My final real problem with this book occurs maybe a quarter of the way through, when Karl and the narrator are in a pub together having dinner. Let me ask ... what would you assume if you saw a 75-year-old man and a 17-year-old man having dinner together? Grandson and grandfather, yes? Not according to this story. I felt like the homophobic comments were thrown in just for the sake of creating conflict. It didn't make sense to me in the slightest that anyone would see the two together and assume they were in a relationship.
I can understand, from the rest of the story, why these men who taunted Karl with these comments needed to be introduced, but I thought this was not a convincing way to do it.

Having presented these criticisms of the book, I do have to point out that, on the whole, I did enjoy the book. It was a quick, light read that made an occasional interesting point (mostly about life and the creation of art), and I enjoyed that Oscar Wilde (a literary hero of mine) was brought up twice!
Although I felt disconnected from the characters, I stuck with them until the end, and I'm glad I did, if only so I could find out how their story ends. And I like the nice link from the end of the book back to the beginning.

This is a nice read if you're looking for something light and quick, but not if you're looking for a book that will move you or stick with you in any way. A way to pass a quiet afternoon, but perhaps not one that will stay with you for any amount of time.

2 stars seems like a bit of an unfair rating, so realistically I would probably give it a 2.5 stars out of 5.


Ruty B. said...

I loved the cover but after reading your review I will add it to my TBR list but I won't read it any time soon
Great review

Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

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