Amos Oz will win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But is he actually any good? The simple answer to that is, I don’t know. I suspect that he is a genius and I am just too dumb to spot why. Everyone else says he is a genius. The press release that accompanied my copy of the book features two quotes, both of which call him a genius. He has won nearly every prize going and, as I have already said, the Nobel is only a matter of time.
He writes quite lengthy short stories in which nothing much happens for a long time and then something happens, or more often doesn’t. They are beautifully structured, eerily dreamlike, timeless, and deceptively simple. And while I cannot really comment on the quality of the prose itself as the book is a translation, what we are presented with is clean and flows naturally.
But I couldn’t help but be reminded of bland risotto before the addition of salty stock. Scenes from Village Life lacks oomph.
The fact that I think the winner of the Prix Femina and the Frankfurt Peace Prize produces writing that lacks oomph; the fact that I use the word oomph in a literary fiction review should tell you all you need to know about me, and whether I will influence your decision about reading Scenes from Village Life or not. (If it helps, I’m not doing a pumpy-fist hand motion when I say oomph. Nor am I saying oomph in a Greg Wallace-esque “flavaah!” voice.) I know this is literary fiction and as such is not required to actually ‘do’ anything, but I cannot feel that a real genius would be able to entertain as well as impress.
When it works it really is very good. ‘Relations’ is a superb story of a woman awaiting the arrival of her nephew that hints at wonderfully dark undercurrents of love and attraction. But other stories are less convincing. The ending of ‘Heirs’ for example, seems a far better fit to the author’s intentions of creating an allegory than a conclusion to the events so carefully described during the story. Sometimes you are left wondering why, if the characters don’t fit what Oz is trying to do, he doesn’t change the characters, or the plot, or write something else. More pertinently, you wonder if he is manipulating his characters so crudely, what are his intentions toward the reader?
Oz’s style of simple stories, simply told is however very popular among the literary fiction reading public. He certainly has an audience and I am pretty sure that audience will love Scenes from Village Life.
Any Cop?: If writers like JM Coetzee and Damon Galgut get you all excited then you are going to love this. If you prefer a little pizzazz in your plot, this may not be ‘the one’. And yes, I am aware I have now used the words ‘oomph’ and ‘pizzazz’ in a book review. Flavaaah!