This is a love story. Bum has failed life. Bum gets lucky and wins trip to Paris (thanks to a mad-man). Bum
falls in love with accidentally met girl. Bum realises it is her sister he really loves. A relationship develops, at length.
Bum-no-longer returns to America to finalise the publication of his great work and -- but that would be telling.
Doesn't sound too promising, does it? Oh, you're wrong there. Howard Waldman can write. This is a man in
superb control of his material. A man who knows his characters inside out and who can bring them across to us with a sense
of reality that is quite beautiful. He is also very funny. At times he has a wicked turn of phrase that can bring the reader
from a smile to a laugh, usually at the expense of Harry (the Bum).
There is also much play on language and the problems an unsure command of it can cause. Some of the philosophy
that this suggests to Waldman is quite fetching: if you learned the name of things in a foreign language, things that you
didn't know in your own, then didn't it cease being a foreign language? Waldman's own command is excellent and you get
the feeling that a lot of this is gained from personal experience.
So basically we have a very well crafted love story between a bum and a French girl, but is that all? No,
it isn't. We also have touches of anti-semitism, as seen from the Jewish viewpoint (Harry is a Jew). We have rural v urban
life (French rural v urban life). We have the grand theme of the importance of the artist and we have questions of commitment.
All of these are handled rather well, with the author's craft well on display.
However, we also have the ending. I am not, as I indicated above, going to give it away, but I do need to
say something about the style of it. The following is a passage that appears on page 310:
Much later he thought that maybe that was the place to end it, almost page 320, but there were too many loose
ends. He was the main loose end.
Anyhow the pretty good news was on its way.
So he had to go on with it.
The author at this point intrudes himself into the novel. This goes on and we see that the story we have
immersed ourselves in, isn't what we thought at all. The author has decided to trick us. I hated it in Ian McEwan's "Atonement"
and I hated it in Yann Martel's "Life of Pi". And I hate it here. Now I admit that both "Atonement" and "Pi" were award-winning
best sellers, so what do I know? I can only write as I believe and what I believe is that a novel is too much of a commitment
on the part of a reader for the author to indulge himself after involving that reader in his world.
The book, as good as it is, was spoilt for me by the ending and the writer, as good as he apparently is, let himself down