From the moment this book was published, it sparked controversy. The critics seemed to be pretty unified in their judgement that this book is yet another failure, with James Wood stating the novel invented its own category of badness. However, a few of them bravely proclaimed this book a masterpiece. Who is right?
Mr. Ryder, a pianist, waltzes into the story blissfully deprived of his memory. Most of the characters know and respect him for his brilliant performances and reputation, but he fails to understand the ground for such behavior. Is he really that good? Nobody can explain it, but he seems to be unable and unwilling to play the piano. Nevertheless, he is informed that he has a very busy schedule for that week, and yet he doesn’t do a single thing he is supposed to. Instead, our forgetful pianist is constantly roaming the streets, walking into various rooms, bumping into people who are very polite, but do not provide him with answers. Given the circumstances, he neglects the real life and that negligence is the most obvious in the scene when he forgets the boy named Boris in a cafe and walks on like nothing has happened.
What are we to do when we start reading this book? Most definitely we are to expect the unexpected because otherwise we will be completely lost, if we are just waiting for things to fall perfectly into their place and for everything to match up in the end. Maybe you won’t figure out anything after you have read this book. Some say that is exactly the main point when it comes to postmodernism, the movement which goes even beyond modernism and deconstructs all the facts, everything that we take for granted, and strives to show us the necessity of thinking everything through before putting a label on it. It is a wake-up call for all of us not asking questions. So, when we start reading this book, we are to doubt everything and explore all the possible meanings of situations, words and thoughts.
That is actually one of the reasons why most people won’t be able to see through to the essence of this book and get to appreciate it. Because, we are way too accustomed to reading books which have a logical narrative and which we can understand completely. However, in this book, it is left up to the reader to decipher all the meanings and find a way out of the book, which has suddenly turned into a labyrinth of seemingly meaningless situations. Ryder himself is trying to escape, even though he is not aware of that. How come? If we think of all the characters in the novel as mere projections of Ryder, as all his former and future selves, all his fears, thoughts and emotions bared to the very core, then he is doing nothing else but running away from himself. The shivering child left stranded, that answers to the name Boris, who could that possibly be? This could be a book about someone’s stream of consciousness and that could provide us with a perfect explanation why most of the scenes are left without a proper ending.
Who is ‘the unconsoled’? Mr. Ryder most definitely, but who else? Aren’t all the characters unconsoled in a way? If they are mere projections of the protagonist, then, by the same token, they must be unconsoled. But, should we be brave enough to pose the following question: Aren’t we all unconsoled, too?
In the bookstore comes a regular person. Gender – irrelevant. Desperate, lost, or just sad? All of those in varying degrees. It is not easy to live in the world so full of people, yet so vacant when it comes to finding someone you can confide in. That is why it is easier to be a shut-in and rely solely on yourself. It’s only once in a blue moon that you feel the need for consolation. You walk into a bookstore, surround yourself with stories regardless of the content and for a moment lose all memory of your former being. Maybe, just for a moment, you find what you have been looking for.