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Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic


by Olivia Sudjic

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    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (niquetteb)
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Sympathy is virtually impossible to describe, I'm struggling to do so even to myself and it was a struggle I grappled with all the way through. In the end Sudjic's own narrator says it best when she characterises her tale as a “love story that is mostly made up, from memories that are mostly false, between people who were mainly not there.”

Alice Hare has never really known herself. Adopted as a baby she knows little of her birth parents except that her mother is dead and her father in prison. Her adoptive family also offers little stability, her mother telling and retelling, embellishing and rewriting the story of their history so often after her husband disappears that neither mother nor daughter have any real sense what is true. In an attempt to escape what feels like a vortex of uncertainty and parental neediness Alice relocates to New York and the home of her cancer-stricken grandmother Silvia.

As Alice attempts to find her way and herself in a new city and a new life, her perceptions and expectations constantly shaped by the "lives" she observes online she stumbles across Mizuko Himura, a Japanese heiress, freelance writer and constant user of social media. Alice becomes obsessed with the connections and parallels she comes to see between her history and Mizuko's. Parallels that take on increasingly irrational significance until she manages to engineer an entry into Mizuko's real life. This is stalking in the internet age and it is not pretty as Alice becomes increasingly obsessed, harnessing all the knowledge she has amassed online into manipulating Mizuko into friendship by aping her like, her opinions and playing to her character. Alice in an extremely complex and unsettling character, incredibly self-involved and yet almost entirely lacking in self-awareness and despite her disturbing penchant for manipulation she is almost endearingly naive to the fact that Mizuko's consciously-curated online identity is no more genuine than her own.

Despite Alice's flaws, her obsessive and possessive tendencies, her selfishness, her guile it is testament to Sudjic's talent that she somehow forces a little sympathy, unpicking these unpleasant characteristics in a way that reveals the sad fragility and vulnerability that underpin her neuroses.

The narrative structure is really quite mind-bogglingly clever. Alice's fragmentary, disjointed and unreliable reminiscences deliberately invoking those long, convoluted "rabbit-holes" (her name is no accident) with which anyone who has ever accidentally lost hours of their life to the internet will be disturbingly familiar. We follow Alice through many, often fascinating, digressions, from particle physics to the 2011 Japanese tsunami to the disappearance of flight MH370. These labyrinthine tangents draw us in an out of the main narrative forging unexpected connections and consequences that make Alice's bizarre focus on coincidences seem less and less absurd. Because Sympathy is all about our lives online and how the constant presence of undiluted, unsubstantiated data can potentially affect and warp our opinions, our thinking and our identities, you find yourself becoming just a little Alice.

Sympathy is an impressive, immersive and ultimately addictive experience, disorientating and irresistible and Olivia Sudjic is, without a doubt, a young author to watch. ( )
  moray_reads | Mar 20, 2018 |
As an experiment, I'm going to share my thoughts on this book (as of page 80 in my reading progress) in lieu of a formal review:

So far in this book, I’m not sure what’s happening when. I’m about 80 pages in and I can tell it is quite the deep dive. Sudjic is dealing unabashedly with whatever subject comes across her psyche in the course of this story that feels as surreal as it does painfully biographical. But it is fiction, treading on undergirding themes of obsession and our modern-day digital lives. It’s making me question other new writing I’ve read. Why do other books so nonchalantly gloss over the backlit details of our increasingly virtual world? Why don’t other authors even seem to sense the impending tsunami of virtual reality as it sends tremors shivering up to our coastline?

For what it’s worth, the unflinching and deft metaphor that Sudjic is weaving throughout this story is giving me pause. Swiping and tapping and pressing into squares of reality. It’s more than pause that it’s giving me, it’s shivers, and a sneaking, lurking fear is being shaped into existence. I think if I don’t make at least some effort to separate myself from the online world, I’m doomed to succumb to it, to fall into the pit that is filled with the failures of my generation. I want to be separate from the ubiquity of the Internet somehow. I want to exist as a self, an identity apart from that which is created and molded and crafted with pixellated detail online. I want to live in touching, tasting, breathing reality, not under the light of an artificial apple, glowing to the rhythm of false life.

Right, so maybe I’m not thinking about the book. But the book is making me think about life. I hesitate to keep reading, because I know it will stretch me in a way that is painfully uncomfortable. But then, I know she wrote it on purpose this way. I want that. I want to feel the crushing weight of Sudjic’s world through the eyes of her broken, unreliable narrator. I want to delve into her world because the truth is, it’s my world, too. ( )
  saresmoore | Mar 20, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received a free copy of this audio book in exchange for a HONEST review. Keep in mind that my review is my OPINION...

Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic
Audio Book Version
Read by Gemma Dawson


If you find the "official" description of this book/audio book you will find the following:

"An electrifying debut novel of obsessive love, family secrets, and the dangers of living our lives online.

In its heady evocation of everything from Haruki Murakami to Patricia Highsmith to Edith Wharton, Sympathy is utterly original—a thrilling tale of obsession, doubling, blood ties, and our tormented efforts to connect in the digital age."

The "official" description by the publisher (above) makes it sound like the next greatest author has just been discovered and that the book might be worthy of the four awards it won (all from low to mid grade magazines). Unfortunately my excitement for the book was crushed within the first hour of listening and my belief in the fact that "experts" have no idea what good fiction is was thoroughly reinforced.

The "official" description compares Ms. Sudjic's work to that of Murakami Haruki (author of 1Q84, Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood). HAH!!! Sorry, couldn't help that. I will say that the two writer's styles do have ONE thing in common,they both use WORDS in their books. Aside from that, Ms. Sudjic's name should NEVER be mentioned in the same sentence with Murakami unless someone is telling a joke about the book's "official" description. Keep in mind that this is not an insult for Ms. Sudjic. Few writers can even consider themselves close to Murakami. It is more of an INSULT to the publisher for lying to the public with these misleading statements.

The truth about the story, in my opinion (and that of many other readers from what I have seen of reviews) is that the story is flat and boring. It has no twists, turns, speed bumps or thrills. It goes from point A to B following an uninteresting girl who is a burden to just about everyone she meets and then blames everything on them. She forces he way into people's lives and then begins to obsess over the negative feelings and events that happen to her.

The characters are lifeless and boring. They do VERY little of interest. I think I was actually "fully" listening in maybe three parts (20 minutes) of the whole 13 hour ordeal. This was like listening to an autobiography about a person who has done nothing and accomplished nothing (aside from annoying everyone) yet feels like the world owes them everything and that their reality should be forced on everyone else. EXTREMELY ANNOYING to listen to. I would have stopped listening to this within the first hour but I did PROMISE to write an HONEST review in exchange for a copy of this audio book...so I forced myself through it.


Well, I will say that they picked the write reader for this book. I'm not sure if she purposely morphed her voice to match the same "tone"of this book, but I could imagine this extremely uninteresting girl (named Alice) sounding exactly like the reader (arrogant and annoying). BRAVO.


Contrary to what the "official" description states, this book was NOT electrifying, NOT thrilling and definitely NOT "utterly original". At best it was a below average story that happened to find some notoriety among so-called "experts" but as usual falls short where it matters...with the readers. I would like to STRESS that I am in no way trying to bash Ms. Sudjic...writing a novel is hard and getting people to notice it is even harder but for this work to get as much "professional" attention as it has, it needs to be MUCH MUCH MUCH better than this (all that "expert" attention tends to paint targets on things).

Have SYMPATHY on yourself...skip this and find something else to read.

1 out of 5 Stars. ( )
  Disco_grinch | Aug 30, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Badly developed characters with very little to encourage the reader to like them or even want to be involved with them. Definitely not a book I would recommend. ( )
  AMKee | Jul 24, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I did not enjoy this book. the main character is a cyber-stalker. The characters are confusing and not well-developed. I did not care about what happened to any of them. I listened to this book on CD. I found it boring. The characters are obsessed with on-line information and fantasy based on this information. I would not recommend wasting your time on this book. ( )
  padmajoy | Jul 9, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0544836596, Hardcover)

One of Entertainment Weekly's "16 Debut Novels to Read in 2017"
One of the Observer's "New Faces of Fiction for 2017"
One of Elle UK’s “Six Top Debut Authors of 2017”​
One of i-D/Vice's "10 Brilliant Emerging Female Authors to Read in 2017"

An electrifying debut novel of obsessive love, family secrets, and the dangers of living our lives online

At twenty-three, Alice Hare leaves England for New York. She becomes fixated on Mizuko Himura, a Japanese writer living in New York, whose life story has strange parallels to her own and who she believes is her “Internet twin.” What seems to Mizuko like a chance encounter with Alice is anything but—after all, in the age of connectivity, nothing is coincidence. Their subsequent relationship is doomed from the outset, exposing a tangle of lies and sexual encounters as three families across the globe collide, and the most ancient of questions—where do we come from?—is answered just by searching online. 
In its heady evocation of everything from Haruki Murakami to Patricia Highsmith to Edith Wharton, Sympathy is utterly original—a thrilling tale of obsession, doubling, blood ties, and our tormented efforts to connect in the digital age.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 03 Apr 2017 20:42:26 -0400)

"At twenty-three, Alice Hare leaves England for New York. She becomes fixated on Mizuko Himura, a Japanese writer living in New York, whose life story has strange parallels to her own and who she believesis her "Internet twin." What seems to Mizuko like a chance encounter with Alice is anything but--after all, in the age of connectivity, nothing is coincidence.Their subsequent relationship is doomed from the outset, exposing a tangle of lies and sexual encounters as three families across the globe collide, and the most ancient of questions--where do we come from?--is answered just by searching online."--… (more)

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