I enjoyed this book very much, but I had to give a two-week break to my reading, and the storyline is not the most straightforward so my reading process had to be a bit disjointed. It is an ambitious book, with multiple parallel sub-plots, all alive with amusing details. I love the style; all characters have very distinct voices, and they all seem to be full of themselves. It is not just a love story; the title refers to a book title inside the book.
The protagonist is a lonely and very old man, who knows that his days in this world are numbered:
“Once [my friend Bruno and I] were sitting silently together. Suddenly one of us began to laugh. It was contagious. There was no reason for our laughter, but we began to giggle and the next thing we were rocking in our seats and howling, howling with laughter, tears streaming down our cheeks. A wet spot bloomed in my crotch and that made us laugh harder, I was banging the table and fighting for air, I thought: Maybe this is how I’ll go, in a fit of laughter, what could be better, laughing and crying, laughing and singing, laughing so as to forget that I am alone, that it is the end of my life, that death is waiting outside the door for me” (7).
Overall it is a sad story, I found page 163 particularly moving (I won’t give spoilers). It has many Jewish references, including memories of Holocaust and exile, to the point that these do not form a mere backdrop but constitute a major thrust of the text. (The novel is currently #44 on Amazon’s Religious & Inspirational > Jewish category.) It has funny bits too, for example, Leo the protagonist goes to model for this art class in order to earn some money. The teacher calls him again later –
“saying she was looking for people for a project she was doing at a gallery, and she thought of me, because of my quote unquote compelling presence. Naturally I was flattered. At any other time it would have been reason enough to splurge on spare ribs. And yet. What kind of project? I asked. She said all I had to do was sit naked on a metal stool in the middle of the room and then, if I felt like it, which she was hoping I would, dip my body into a vat of kosher cow’s blood and roll on the large white sheets of paper provided. I may a fool but I’m not desperate. There’s only so far I’m willing to go, so I thanked her very much for the offer but I said I was going to have to turn it down since I was already scheduled to sit on my thumb and rotate in accordance with the movements of the earth around the sun” (75).
The stories within the story required some “untangling” and once I figured out where I was headed, my reading speed peaked towards the end. But the book already has this big element of suspense, and the author has thrown in a final surprise at the very end for good measure – I felt that wasn’t really necessary. Definitely a very nice summer book though, and apparently it’s being made into a film, looking forward to that too.