Overtaken in the slow lane

I recently read “The Tiger’s Wife” b y Tea Obreht, lent to me by a friend who’d read it as part of her book club.  I wasn’t entirely keen on reading it as it seemed a bit worthy but once I’d run out of anything else to read, I thought I’d give it a go.  The opening pages all seemed rather interesting and brilliant and I unadvisedly glanced at the inner back cover to find out more about the writer.  Bad move.  Young, blonde, impossibly pretty, not yet thirty years old, writing in what seems to be her third language, how could I not be sick with jealousy?  When I was twenty seven, my writing was crap beyond belief.  I’d experienced no life at all except the garbage that went on inside my head and it reflected in my writing – nothing to write about, nothing to say – though worst of all, the writing itself was appalling.  I grew up in a country where English is spoken badly (though it hasn’t stopped other writers writing in English and they’ve all done better than me too) so perhaps that isn’t enough of an excuse.  I realised my limitations quite early on.  My grasp of English as a divine language is crap.  I speak badly (my favourite word is fuck, which says an awful lot about me) and I write even worser (har dee har har).

I tried to bypass this curious defect (actually, it’s just called stupidity) by developing a style that didn’t need Big Words.  Short, punchy sentences, mesmerism, ploughing deeply inside characters’ minds….I thought this would do.

But it’s still crap.  This Tea girl writes well and she’s got something to write about.  I did find myself getting awful bored at once point as the story went off into yet another tangent about yet another character, when all I really wanted to know about was the Deathless Man and the Tiger’s Wife herself.  The grandfather’s voice was the strongest and one wishes rather that this could have been his story entirely.  Needless to say, of the three characters, these three stories remain frustratingly unresolved.

I’m not going to write a review because I’ve been reviewing the damn book inside my head the entire time I was reading it.  It’s immensely difficult NOT to review a book while reading it, forming opinions, analysing the writing, envying the writer’s skill and lack of restraint.  I wish I could just get lost in a book but that’s not something I’ve been able to do for a long time.  The trials of being a writer, I suppose.


The funniest character in the book, I must just add, is the parrot who, at unexpected moments, quotes from some or other poet (I’m too uneducated to be able to tell you which one).

“O!  My God!  Behold the wonderment!” it screeches at one point which made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off the edge of the world.  “O!  Hear you thunder!  Is that the earth a-shaking?” it says later and answers,  “No!  Tis not thunder!  Nor the earth a-shaking!”

I’d like that parrot for a pet.


Otherwise, I don’t get the book.  Is there anything to “get” I wonder.  Is it too deep for my shallow uneducatedness?  Or is there nothing to get after all?  I have yet to read other reviews which might make up my mind for me.  Or I could just go on being mindless, which I wonder isn’t better in a world meshed together by opinions.


About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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One Response to Overtaken in the slow lane

  1. Roy says:

    Just getting lost in 11.22.63 by Stephen King. It’s great. And guess what, his favourite word is fuck, too. And he comes from a country who speaks crap English (sorry to all Americans, but I am German, that’s my excuse). Even the book title is crap. But the story is great! 😉

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