I felt as though this book had a lot of potential, but ultimately suffered from weak characterization and a very slow start.
I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and dystopias, and basically any book that uses either as a hook will succeed in drawing me in. Thus far the ones I’ve read have been uniformly excellent - Alas, Babylon
, The Road
, and many others – and this one came highly recommended to me. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it.
Obviously, Auster spent a lot of time developing the city in which the book unfolds, from the way food is distributed to the recycling of dead bodies, but he spends far too much time telling us all of this, rather than letting the flat main character experience it. There’s too much time spent setting the scene, giving away what could have been powerful, emotional moments.
I didn’t like the main character, either. She’s far too lucky, for one thing, moving along only by the grace of god/Auster. She’s unemotional, and even the moments when she falls in love feel completely flat and unrealistic. Even when she tries to reach out to her intended audience – the book is written in the style of a journalistic letter home – there is little sympathy to give her. Other characters are more interesting, and I wonder what the book would have been like had Auster chosen to follow one of them.
So here’s what I would have liked to see out of the book. Either Auster could have chosen a different character, or he should have cut out the first 50 or so pages, and added 50 or so pages on to the end. I’m sure the characters’ attempted flight from the city would be an interesting and eventful read, and many of the horrors that Anna recites in the beginning could be truly experienced in the end.