Review of “The Double Bind”May 31, 2008
rating: 4 of 5 stars
Because I loved “The Thirteenth Tale” my contact at Barnes and Noble was sure I would like this book by Bohjalian. He had heard the two books had many things in common. Unfortunately, they don’t. Fortunately, I liked this one for much different reasons.
(This review contains no spoilers of any serious degree).
I wish there was a way to give this 3.5 stars instead of 4, but that would make me look nitpicky, so I will go with 4 (like I have a choice). The author does something that I don’t find very often: He cloaks the ending so completely that I had no idea what was coming until I stumbled on it. In fact, and this is a big nudge to anyone who is about to read it, don’t just assume that the last few pages are footnotes or just acknowledgements. In there is the kernel of the story and it helps to make sense of the rest. It is worth getting to the end, as the ride has many bumps along the way and your mental capacity may not be up to it.
I recommend this book to be read on vacation where you can digest large clumps of it. That will make the action move faster. The characters are not as well defined as they usually are in novels of this magnitude, but the ending will clear up the reason for this.
Now to the few things I didn’t like about the book. First, the plot moves too slowly and without as much conflict as there should have been. That is not true of the opening two chapters fortunately. I was hooked after them. But then, the book resembled a river that lazily spreads out after some fast and treacherous rapids. The entire way through, I kept waiting for more action or more insight, but neither came through.
Also, the author pricked one of my trial balloons: Using the third-person omnipotent from chapter to chapter. That, of course, is more acceptable than doing it in the same chapter, but it gets annoying because the reader is told things that a good writer would reveal through plot instead of through the thoughts of the characters. At least, that is how my brain would rather discover them. I can’t imagine Tolkien, for instance, telling us about the dangers of “Old Man Willow” by giving us glimpses of Tom Bombadil’s thought life. I’m not even sure I could follow Bombadil’s thoughts.
Normally I finish a novel in a day or two. This took me two weeks because I didn’t get swept along with it and just read a chapter every evening before bed.
Also, the writer uses profanity in such a way that shows he is not familiar with its usage and probably threw it in because the characters would have used it. It didn’t add to the story.
My biggest excitement was the understanding that the writer had about homeless people and their struggle for personhood. That was worth the book.