It is 1992 and Regina Gottlieb, 20 years old, is starting her graduate degree. From the very first time she sees him at a poetry reading, Regina is mesmerized by Nicholas Brodeur, the seductive English professor with a rather shocking reputation. Although she is well aware that it may not be the smartest thing to do, Regina accepts a job as his assistant and slowly finds herself entering the world Nicholas and his wife, Martha, inhabit. Getting closer to Nicholas and Martha means a distance develops between Regina and her house-mate, friend and occasional lover, Dutra.
While it is Regina’s fascination with Nicholas Brodeur and his reputation that entices her into his orbit, he won’t be the subject of her fantasies and desires. A passionate affair will follow, but instead of Nicholas it will be the person closest to him who captivates Regina to such an extent that she disregards the consequences her feelings and actions will have, both for herself and for those around her. And it won’t be until 15 years later that the conflicts that started in 1992 and their lasting consequences come to the surface and have a chance of being put to rest.
I am not entirely sure how I feel about this book or what to say about it. This a rather typical coming-of-age story in that it portrays the journey a young woman makes from the innocence and happy-go-lucky lifestyle so typical of teenagers to the very real and harsh consequences that an affair and first deep, but unattainable love can bring. And the gravity of everything Regina encounters and experiences jumps of the page in the form of long and at times seemingly mindless descriptions of everything she sees, feels, does and experiences. And that is where my main issue with this book lies. While I realise that those first encounters with deep but impossible love can turn us into philosophers, I can’t help feeling that this book, or rather the writing in it, was trying to be a bit too clever. Overly long and detailed descriptions and complicated structures to the sentences forced me regularly to re-read a sentence or paragraph multiple times before I got the meaning. And this enforced re-reading kept on taking me out of what was a very interesting story.
Because, while the main story-line was fascinating, it seemed to take a back-seat to all those descriptions. After almost 400 pages I can only say that at all times I felt that very little was actually happening in this story. The emotions as experienced by Regina never quite seemed to match that which was happening to her and despite all the descriptions I never developed an understanding for her actions or a clear picture of what was motivating the other characters caught up in this drama.
I guess it is hard to get truly involved in a story in which the object of everybody’s desires is a character I can’t find attractive and, probably more importantly, can’t imagine anybody else finding attractive either. Because it isn’t really Regina’s actions that upset everybody’s lives. In fact, you could say that while Regina is the one relating this story she isn’t really the main catalyst in it. That honour, in my opinion, falls to the person she has her affair with, the person I could never get a handle on or sympathise with.
From the description on the back of this book it would be easy to get the impression that this is a work of erotic fiction; however it isn’t. While an affair plays a huge and devastating part in this story, and that affair is definitely passionate, this is not the sort of book that indulges in detailed or long descriptions of intimacy. This is a book about feelings, about acting on those feelings and the consequences those actions can have, not only on the lives of those personally caught up in that passion but also on those around them. This is a literary novel about love, lust, betrayal and devastation. It is a story about growing up and recognising the consequences of our actions, even if it takes years for the real consequences to come to the surface.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I liked the story, or the idea behind it, but didn’t – always – enjoy the way in which it was told. To me this book seemed at times overly descriptive and lyrical which made it a slow and at times a bit of a hard to follow reading experience for me. I can’t help feeling though that this may well be a deficiency on my part rather than a fault of the author. If you enjoy a thoughtful, descriptive and introspective story written by someone who uses words masterfully as well as abundantly, you will probably love this book.