It’s been longer before I’m continuing this series than I originally expected. But now, I can’t stand this any longer. This time it’s Lawrence Norfolk’s novel “Lempriere’s Dictionary” that I’m all upset about. The book is Norfolk’s first novel, an attempt at something big, and has received some considerable applause. I fail to quite understand what for, though.
Believe me, I am really trying to enjoy this book. Maybe I wouldn’t be as upset, if I didn’t. The book itself, I received as a gift from my wife. But now, I’ve been reading it for months and haven’t progressed any further than page 200 and something. Of course, you may say, the book just is no easy read. And I may not be up to the task. — Well, I have read a few difficult books during my studies of “English and American Literature” or “Medieval History”. I also thoroughly enjoy things like Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” (including every single, distracting footnote). This is very different, though.
It all starts with the inner monologue of the protagonist. For pages and pages he wallows in self-pity, almost unbearable. From there, I thought, it can only get better. And it did to some extent, but even later the characters remain hardly credible in their actions. Like when John Lempriere goes to meet with his counterpart in an old inherited contract only to be shown an absurd drinking game and then eventually take part in it rather than smacking Septimus who stole his money to place a bet. Even later, he decides to write a dictionary following the advice of an again completely absurd session with a psychiatrist Septimus organized … Huh? Why does Lempriere even still associate with Septimus? Why does he take the psychiatrist for serious, when he feels it’s a farce?
But what’s probably worse to me, personally, is that Norfolk is just no story-teller. He prefers to indulge in endless often completely unmotivated discourse (for example between Septimus and the landlord of a cafe on the comparative merits of coffee vs. tea) just to sound scholarly. This, I feel, is a lot more to the benefit of the author than the reader.
Anyway, the rest of my sentiments have already been voiced elsewhere. I’ll link to a few review that sum it up, nicely. Fairness, of course, demands to admit that there are favourable reviews, too.