Monday, March 17, 2014

Tournament of Books: Atkinson vs. Yanagihara

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

Life After Life v. The People in the Trees

I do not envy John Green his decision as the official Tournament of Books judge for this round.  I think these two books are the strongest in the tournament. The two novels are very different, but have some interesting similarities in the way truth changes based on who is telling a story, how history can change (literally in the Atkinson), and how perspective can be everything.

I have already <a href="">discussed Life After Life</a> in the pre-tournament round, so I won't repeat myself.

The People in the Trees, on the other hand, is probably the book I have been the most conflicted about in my entire life. It's written like an annotated memoir based on letters from jail, about a scientist who does research on immortality on a newly discovered Micronesian tribe. So the style is cool, you would almost think it was real non-fiction but its all fiction and therefore a novel. I even got tricked a few times into looking up books that are mentioned. They don't exist. Nothing is real. But throughout the reading of the book, I would forget and indulge my librarian side..

The scientist, Dr. Perina, is really unlikeable. You know at the beginning that he is in jail for abusing his children, but you don't know the story or if it's true until the end.

Along the way though, along with imaginative jungle descriptions and tribal culture, are pretty explicit scenes of violent sexual abuse. The author made them central to the plot. I ended the novel feeling like I'd witnessed something awful, something that since it didn't even happen, I never needed to have read, so unnecessary.

So okay my question is this... Is this brilliance, If I'm shaken to the core? Or was I just manipulated? Could it have had the same emotional impact without those scenes or if she'd implied them? Either way the author willingly put it there. I think I hated it yet feel like I was supposed to. 

I brought the book up to several trusted book groups and readers, asking their opinion about what it MEANS when you react this way.  I still haven't rated the book in GoodReads.  I'm not sure I'd recommend anyone to read it, but I secretly think it might be brilliant.  So the winner I will choose is People in the Trees.

ETA: See John Green's official choice as judge for the Tournament of Books. 

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