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This novel is not for everyone; you need to be tolerant of self-indulgent, over-privileged intellectuals, but if you can get past that, then it is funny. Narrator gets into several humiliating situations, mostly his own fault, which suggests we are being invited into the writer's in-home about how people like this narrator (who is clearly based on the writer) are ridiculous. And that self-awareness rescues the novel from being utterly pretentious. Not sure I would read another by this author, but maybe one Ben Lerner book might be enough in anyone's life.
A story about not art itself but of how we relate to it, as the opening chapter cleverly foreshadows. I normally struggle with postmodern gimmicks - I barely finished Sophie's World, and hated Foucault's Pendulum - but here I found the conceit somehow less pretentious, and was able to enjoy the novel as it is.
Rather than exulting writing, as too many books about writing do, Leaving the Atocha Station is almost disdainful of it. Certainly our narrator-writer cuts a truly pathetic figure - a mooching stoner who's found a way to put off getting a job a little longer, who lies to get women into bed and struggles even then. On one level this story can be read as the uplifting coming of age of the stereotypical millennial man-child, as our lead gradually realises his genuine talent for poetry and accept that it might be a legitimate way for him to live. Alternately one can see this as a Lolita-style case of sympathy for the devil.
But the point that occupies most of the book is whether such ambiguity is itself fakery, pretending profundity by saying nothing. It's a trick I find all too common in literary novels - the unwillingness to essay a concrete position, especially on moral questions - but here I find it forgivable, because the novel itself is the answer - not in a self-impressed, clever-clever way, but in a simple and powerful demonstration that this stuff does, ultimately, mean something, even if we feel like we brought the meaning ourselves. Or so it felt to me.
I have personal happy memories of a holiday in a hostal near Atocha, so all the descriptions of Madrid were close to me heart. The book was slightly too long...I could have happily finished fifty pages sooner, but....still a good read.
What could have been a self-indulgent exercise is saved by clear, lucid, knowing writing.
A 20-something, dealing with mental issues, living dissolutley in Spain, fakes work, gets high, drinks, goes to parties and makes friends, all the while chewing over his existence. It should have been awful. I mean, if you are way past 20-something and its attendant confusions, self-obsessions and grandiosities, then 20-something life has not much appeal, especially a whole novel full of it. But Ben Lerner is good, mostly very good.
Entertaining, clever, funny at times, touching, well worth reading.
«Leaving the Atocha Station» was a good book although it didn't quite live up to the buzz as an innovative novel. Having lived in a country where I didn't speak the language fluently, the sections where he struggles with his diverse interpretations of people's conversations were particularly amusing.
It is the year 2004 and Adam Gordon, poet and Ivy League graduate, is studying on a scholarship in Madrid. He is acutely observant, narcissistic, not fluent in Spanish, and a decidedly unreliable narrator. While he seems to be able to distinguish between 'truth' and 'falsehood' the two are blended to form a constant uncertainty. This may, or may not, be a consequence of the 'hash' and the prescription drugs that he consumes on a daily basis, often washed down with a considerable amount of alcohol. But Adam can tell you more about his failing than I can, and in a far more amusing and telling way! No doubt Isabel and Teresa, both very fond of him, and both given something of a difficult time, could tell us more. Of course in the context we only have Adam's views to go on, and as he is well aware his judgement on them is not to be trusted! Self-doubt, lack of confidence, and uncertainty are at the heart of this novel. As is the relevance of poetry and its meaning in contemporary life. First person narration, particularly when the narrator is such a dominant force, always risks some loss of empathy. At first I asked, "Why am I in the company of this self-centred young man?" The wry humour, the quality of the writing, and the intriguing point of view, soon won me over. Many of the quotes from reviews suggest that the novel is "very funny". It's very amusing and perceptive but I suggest that this masks a darker vision. As you would expect Jonathan Franzen puts it better writing in the Guardian that it is "the story of a mentally unstable, substance-dependent young poet brilliantly and excruciatingly wasting a fellowship year in Madrid". The author may have had similar experiences, but he surely did not waste his time!
Being of a generation going back to 1945, I found the ethics of the main characters somewhat difficult to attune to, but after saying that, by the time I finished the book I was hooked. Yes, I found it enjoyable.
This is a very well executed debut novel from this American poet turned novelist and has a number of autobiographical features that seem to mirror the writers own experiences. Brilliantly written and at times hilariously funny as the narrator Adam gives an account of his living in Madrid and the nuances of language and relationship. Definitely worth a read.