My first piece of advice when approaching this book: Do not read reviews (except for this one). You can read this one because I am not going to compare it to any other book, and I am not going to tell you about the plot. But don’t go to Goodreads. Don’t read the review in the New York Times. Ignore the Washington Post. All I can say about those reviews is that spoilers abound. Come to think of it, don’t even read description on the book jacket.
Here is what I will say:
It took me 7 days to read the first 200 pages. I thought the story was very arty farty, meticulously crafted, gorgeous, but pretentious.
It took me 1 day to read the remaining 200 pages. Suddenly, the story became gripping. My heart raced. I couldn’t put it down.
This is a novel about a marriage. Lotto and Mathilde meet in college and grow together into middle age. They act like partners in his rise to creative stardom, appear to be joined in every way. But a question emerges about how well one person can ever know another person. Can you really share your truest self?
This book could spark a thousand conversations about art and love, about the function of childhood pain in creative work, and about role-playing in relationships. All of these things could bring very literary readers to this novel, and they would be satisfied. But this book could also attract more general readers, people who like to rise up from their beach chairs between sips of tropical beverage and holler, “WTF! Did that just happen?” The problem is that the beach chair readers would need to wade through 200 pages of deep thought, and the literary readers would need to be able to relax and let go of deep thought. In a way, the beginning and the end are two separate books, married to look like one.
This novel is a 2015 National Book Award finalist.
Here’s an interview with Groff (But spoilers! Don’t read it until you’ve finished the novel. I mean it!).