Saturday, February 26, 2011

You'll Need a Fifth to Finish Mr. Kennedy's Novel

Kennedy, Douglas. The Woman in the Fifth. London: Arrow, 2008 (2007).

Much could be said about Douglas Kennedy's novel The Woman in the Fifth, but this book is not one that lends itself to extensive literary criticism. The Woman in the Fifth is written pretty well. I've never been to Paris, so I can't attest to the accuracy of his city descriptions, and I've never personally known illegal immigrants participating in unsavoury activities in the French underworld, so it's difficult to assess the technical skill with which Kennedy might have captured these scenes and characters. However, I struggled with this book. Kennedy's dialogue and characters seemed, at many times, forced and flat: a problem that makes better sense given the novel's bizarre conclusion, but which cannot be forgiven by his super(fluous)natural deus ex machina. The first three quarters of the novel seem to be a profound psychological experiment (will any reader plod through this book in search of a conclusion?) while the climax lacks all plausibility: while Kennedy's supernatural finish could be tolerated, perhaps, had he also proffered a rational explanation for events, the absence of the latter makes the former ludicrous.

In short, this is a novel about a man named Harry Ricks, who leaves his American family after causing a scandal at the small school at which he once taught. In Paris, a city he has always longed to visit, he meets the book's title character as well as a slew of questionable individuals. He has a great deal of sex and attempts to write a novel, only to find that his life is cruelly guarded by a rather jealous goddess of love and revenge.

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