One of the first books on my summer reading list was ‘The Idiot’ by Elif Batuman which I picked up shortly before I left Newcastle. I looked at the cover (and I know – never judge a book on
it’s cover, but it really was very lovely!) and then I read it was ‘Hilarious’ and I thought that seemed like just the book for the start of the hols! Later, as I was half-way through and, yes I’d smiled at a few bits but didn’t really think it was hilarious exactly I looked back at the quote and saw the vital bit of information: “Hilarious’ – Financial Times’.
So it’s not exactly the easy, funny, book I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it. I would say, if summing up what ‘The Idiot’ is about that this book is a book about books, it is a warm portrayal of university life, in America in the 90s, and it’s a book about love ( well more, I’d say, about what love could be) and emails (I promise I will come back to the emails…).
As Selin, the main character, travelled across the world to Hungary and France, I read her story as I travelled on various trains to Shrewsbury and to Wales (all my best reading is done on trains!)! I liked Selin, she was very real – very true, but I wouldn’t want to sit next to her at a dinner party. In fact, I think if I was hosting a dinner party with fictional characters she’d be the character I forgot to invite (I would hundred per cent have Hermione Grainger because magic would be amazing at my party, and also Gatsby because I have a lot of unanswered questions – who would you invite?).
So, anyways, back to Selin. She was fine – she was a typical student, and in fact she deserves more credit than I’m giving her, because she was refreshingly real. She was normal – full stop rule off, and that was nice. I related to her worries about university living, and adjusting to life. I related to house sharing, and the small (and the big) issues that come up when you’re meeting loads of new people all at once (and living with them!)! When reading this book you really get under Selin’s skin – you know what she’s thinking and Selin thinks a lot, she thinks about her life as a narrative told in Turkish and English, she wonders about falling in love, making friends, and adjusting to her new Harvard life.
Subject: Hey, just thought I’d drop you a line ….
This book is historical – if you can call the 90s historical. Most of the time I didn’t notice the fact that it was set in the 90s (am I just unobservant?), things haven’t changed too much, but the big difference was the emails (I told you I’d come back to them)!
Selin is given a Harvard email address, and at first is unsure about how to use it. Then, she sends a message to an older boy called Ivan and she realises that an email relationship can sometimes be formed easier than a relationship in real life. The emails they send are a bit bizarre, and slowly a kind of fantasy world is created between the two of them but through the fiction they say a lot of truth. Honestly, these slightly strange emails were my favourite part of the book.
It’s a fine line between fiction and reality
Selin is very sincere, when she writes these emails to Ivan she (and don’t keep reading if you don’t want any spoilers but I kinda think you will have guessed anyway), she falls in love. Ivan, though, whilst he loves the girl in the emails, he loves her in the way you love a fictional character – knowing it’s unreal, and knowing it will never be part of reality.
People may not write each long letters, or long emails anymore, it’s social media – but the issue remains the same. Whole relationships can be formulated – but are they real? Can you be sure? At least with letters particularly, but also emails, you had to share a bit more of yourself, with instant messages you can speak far more often, but how much are you actually saying?
I seem to have got a bit philosophical – but that’s what Batuman’s book is like – it makes you think about things.
So that’s it, that’s what I thought. I thought, it was an interesting, book and I’m glad I’ve read it. What do you think – have you read it?
Have a wonderful week,
My Top 3 Quotes (that I got too carried away with and became 5)
“Even though I had a deep conviction that I was good at writing, and that in some way I already was a writer, this conviction was completely independent of my having ever written anything, or being able to imagine ever writing anything, that I thought anyone would like to read.”
“Whenever I’m worried about anything,” said this guy Ben, “I like to think about China. China has a population of like two billion people, and not one of them even remotely cares about whatever you think is so important.” I acknowledged that this was a great comfort.
“It seemed very remarkable that you could travel halfway around the world and still end up looking at some ducks.”
“An amazing sight, someone you’re infatuated with trying to fish something out of a jeans pocket.”
“Your atom, I think it will never go back to peace, to cereal or rocks or anything like that….That seduced atom has energies that seduce people, and those rarely get lost.”