Top critical review
What White People Are Really Like - #MillenialEdition
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on 16 February 2019
So this is what young white people do and this is how they think and this is how they communicate (or fail at communicating) and how their relationships are. This was the takeaway from what is beautifully written angsty-mopey tale of two Howard Roark-ish teenagers (without his clarity of purpose, but with his intelligence) set in Ireland (but it is really a microcosm for any First World White Person country).
I'm not trying to be provocatively snarky here - there is a great deal regarding human emotion that is agnostic of culture and society and we do get that here through some beautiful observations and most profound analyses by an extremely talented writer.
"How strange to feel herself so completely under the control of another person, but also how ordinary. No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not."
"This ‘what?’ question seems to him to contain so much: not just the forensic attentiveness to his silences that allows her to ask in the first place, but a desire for total communication, a sense that anything unsaid is an unwelcome interruption between them."
"Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget."
But a lot of this book was quite educational (if that's the right word) for me about the 'class' struggles, the sublimated impact of Modern Family lite, the unsaid rules, etiquette and expectations of teenage relationships, the pressures & manner of 'fitting-in', in another part of the world which despite the influence of Hollywood & English-language books over three decades still acted as a bit of an eye opener. Also the long rambling descriptions of making yourself a cup of tea and drinking sessions in colleges and wandering the supermarket aisles are probably what lets you peak into life in another world.
"Marianne goes inside and comes back out again with another bottle of sparkling wine, and one bottle of red. Niall starts unwrapping the wire on the first bottle and Marianne hands Connell a corkscrew. Peggy starts clearing people's plates. Connell unpeels the foil from the top of a bottle as Jamie leans over and says something to Marianne. He sinks the screw into the cork and twists it downwards. Peggy takes his plate away and stacks it with the others"
"The kettle comes to the boil. Lorraine sweeps the line of hairpins into the palm of her hand, closes her fist around them and pockets them. She gets up then, fills the cup of tea, adds milk, and puts the bottle back in the fridge. He watches her."
Unlike a lot of folks who don't seem to have liked the deadpan, present tense-using, no quotation-marks writing style - I quite liked that and thought it wasn't unnecessarily descriptive of the background scenery as many literary novels (of which set this book is a part of with a Booker nomination and everything else) are wont to be. My bigger disconnect was with the inability to connect with the two central characters and understand their IMO pig-headed actions and decisions. Actually even though after all the insight we have, I don't think I understand their emotions of intense longing, complete depression, ability to switch on-and-off in relationships which are based on some magical other-worldly connections. Surely one would expect more rational decision making and clearer communication from intelligent human beings and awareness of a world outside their bubble? This is alluded to once in the book as well:
"But that was their world then. Their feelings were suppressed so carefully in everyday life, forced into smaller and smaller spaces, until seemingly minor events took on insane and frightening significance."
This line above kind of sums up what this whole book is about. Sure stories are always about people but there has to be something plausible, connectable, interesting, less tedious?
So now, trying to summarise more to put my thoughts in order :
- Did I enjoy reading it? I guess, yes - it is very readable
- Would I recommend it? I think I would even if it's just for the writing style
- Would I read another book by the author? Probably not