Sunday, May 3, 2009


I found myself feeling a grudging admiration for the author, Erlend Loe. He relinquished plot, restricted himself to a few characters, and had only the hero's myopic view of New York by way of setting. Hence "slick." The book sustained interest despite being about a depressed person's lack of engagement with life. I could imagine clinical psychologists using this book to explain what it's like to be clinically depressed.

A question for me is why we seem to need books like this every so often. The Catcher in the Rye is the obvious comparison but I suspect there have been similar books that come out once a generation. I expect this one will sink as the others have and Catcher will remain the gold standard, but Naive Super has a contemporary sensibility that makes it accessible in a way Catcher perhaps is not.

I admired the brevity of the book and the way the author used repetition. This is working without a net -- Loe wanted to convey the main character's boredom and inability to be charmed by life, but risked boring the reader. Nicely done.

However, I was bored with the what-is-the-meaning-of-it-all parts of the book although the emails to the physicist were funny. I thought Loe handled the relationship with the brother well - it's clear they were always on the verge of alienation but strong family ties saw them through. The brother did not really understand what was happening, but his sheer determination to help seemed to give some energy to our hero (and gosh it's hard to write about him with no name -- take a cue from Holden Caulfield next time Loe!).

So I liked the book. My appreciation is perhaps more for the artisanlike way the book was constructed than the themes since by now of course I've been there and done that.

I am still wondering about one of the blurbs on the back cover -- "I devoured Erlend Loe with giggling enchantment." From some European magazine. Maybe it's a bad translation but "giggling enchantment" cannot be a means of devouring, and in any case, if you didn't understand how sad this book is, you didn't really read it. Giggling enchantment indeed.

I suggest that we read White Tigers next -- I think the two would be an interesting comparison. It is the opposite of Naive Super -- full of local color, plot, characters, detail.

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