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Seven Types of Ambiguity (2004)

by Elliot Perlman

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1,1472812,766 (3.96)45
At once a psychological thriller and a social critique, is a story of obsessive love in an age of obsessive materialism. Of impulse and paralysis, of empty marriages, lovers and a small boy, gambling and the market, of adult children and their parents, of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law.… (more)



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English (26)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
If I'd had to guess, I would have said 'tour de force' is one of those expressions we use, but the French don't. Not that we do use it, it's one of those expressions you can't use because it's been watered down in that way, you know. The coffee is awesome. That kind of way.

To my surprise, however, I see this book, which the French love, described by them as a 'tour de force'. I can't help thinking that when the French use this expression they probably don't mean it is a trivial thing, slightly better than another comparable trivial thing.

I was reading what the French have to say about Perlman because he is regularly described as being 'one of the 50 most important writers in the world' a tag accorded him by Lire magazine. I couldn't find that when I looked at their site. But they clearly adore him, as do the Germans:

His second novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity, was a national bestseller in France where it was described as 'one of the best novels of recent years, a complete success' (Le Monde). In Germany it was called a 'literary sensation' (Deutschlandradio), 'an impressive, iridescent all-encompassing view of feeling' (Der Spiegel), and described as having "the virtues of the great modern European novel' (Süddeutsche Zeitung).

So good, his work could be considered European. Thus does a blatantly Australian writer arrive.

How about in Australia? The SMH, in an interview, observed of this novel that 'it has also brought him extravagant praise he has not quite yet won here.' I guess I have to 'fess up. I've never read any of his books, though I did see the movie of his first and it was terrific. I'm making up for it, the others will be read soon.

Australians may take for granted this writer who has electrified the world with his work, but of the many awards and accolades Seven Types of Ambiguity has received, I wonder if one that would sit best with the author is The Queensland Premier's award for Advancing Public Debate. Here is a man who cares, Elliot Perlman, he cares passionately and he does not disguise that for one moment. This book is a moving indictment of white first world attitudes, the ones that have forgotten any sense of common good and are all about get more, more, more for me, me, me. In some writers you'd be relieved that he got away with this, that it didn't spoil a good yarn, but Perlman is so good he has you all but weeping with disgust at the way you live whilst utterly unable to put down a book which has a plot, characters, dialogue, clever construction and technique.

For several days in a row I did almost nothing but sit with all 607 pages in two point font. There are times when I feel bad that I give so many books 3 stars that others give more generously to. But then, every now and again a book comes along that is so obviously so superior that I remember why I save up 5 stars. In fact, right now what I think I'm going to do is review my 5 star ratings, just to make sure the others are worthy enough to be in the company of this book. It's that good. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
It is surprising that I hadn't included this previously. There was at the time of its publication a certain buzz about the book, one hued all Franzen-like and I found out that it was availible in a local library outside of our county (this was before reciprocity) and I arranged for a friend to check out the novel and i quickly read such in the wake. It was very bleh; authorial wrinkles, people living suburban lives with a thoughtful poet at the core. Okay. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Re-read. Still fab. ( )
  davidroche | Jan 10, 2015 |
A magnificent book. If the overlap in the stories and points of view of the different characters, and the "ambiguity" about "what happened" this creates is going to annoy you, either check yourself severely, or read something else, but don't "project" your problems onto the book. Because of the way the story was told, I believe it was utterly necessary for the narrative, with each change-of-character's point of view, to pick up, not quite write the previous narrator left off, but somewhat prior to that. Doing this also enhanced the contrast – sometimes subtle, sometimes profound – between one narrator's perspective and another's. If different narrators are not to be permitted to describe "the same" events, how does the reader find out about the differences in their perspectives? It can't (or maybe shouldn't) be done solely through innuendo and indirection. (Remember, the word "ambiguity" is featured in the title of the book; why deny the author a full opportunity to develop said ambiguity?)

Amazing, too, that a book like this could have a "surprise ending", given the way it was structured ... but I'd have to say that it absolutely did: the fallibility of my memory notwithstanding, I've read this book twice and I was surprised by the ending both times.

Is it an "easy" read? Very few 640-page novels are. Is it a compelling read? I definitely found it to be so. The "secret" to appreciating this, to my mind, was my habit of persistently dwelling in the nuances of that key word, ambiguity, taking the book at its own pace (not insisting that it conform to mine), and reflecting on the potential implications of the different points of view of the different characters. Essentially all books have multiple characters with multiple points of view; very view are genuine artistic meditations on that theme, as this one is. ( )
1 vote bookaholixanon | Nov 25, 2014 |
I was about to write a review saying how much I enjoyed this book and then I read the review below by Elmoelle 09 Aug 2013. A terrific review which really says everything I would have said, so please read it. All that I can add is that we see things from our own point of view but walk awhile in someone-else's shoes and you acquire a completely different viewpoint. ( )
  lesleynicol | Oct 9, 2013 |
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At once a psychological thriller and a social critique, is a story of obsessive love in an age of obsessive materialism. Of impulse and paralysis, of empty marriages, lovers and a small boy, gambling and the market, of adult children and their parents, of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law.

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