Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Hope, Glen Duncan
Read: 18 February to 23 March 2009
4.5 / 5 stars

God, so. What to say about a novel that left me emotionally exhausted every time I picked it up and desperately wanting to read just a few more paragraphs every time I reluctantly put it down?

It's a love story, but not in the traditional sense. Love of another. Love of the self. Love of vices (namely pornography, prostitutes and booze, with some drugs and masturbation thrown in for the Yatzee). Love of one's own misery. Love of the past. Love of what could have been. Love of hope that hasn't been seen in years. Love without a home.

It's about how time changes everything and nothing at all, even the memory of the dark and dirty girl down the street who was a blip in time but a turning point in life.

It's an exercise in modern stream-of-consciousness writing. One minute you're wallowing in the protagonist's misery in the present, the next you're yanked back to the past where the only good thing is Gabriel's first love. A Portrait of the Artist as a Floundering Individual? Oh, God yes. And, like James Joyce so masterfully did so many years ago, you feel all the closer to the protagonist for it because you're forced to learn everything about him when you're forced that deeply into his head.

It's an exploration of regret and the necessity of an end, which is an issue Gabriel is fated to grapple with for eons beyond the book's final line.

The exploration of a first love is almost guaranteed to evoke near-tangible images of the reader's own experiences -- and those fondly recalled ghosts of past romances that were the right thing at the wrong time are almost gut-wrenching in how Hope gradually raises them to heartbreaking palpability. You learn about the psychological damage one faces by living in the past, and it's terrifying.

The supporting cast is almost as screwed up as Gabriel, and they're all just as compelling. His best friend (and most immediate foil) is one of the most tragic characters I've ever encountered in literature.

What's most remarkable about Hope is (aside from Glen Duncan's brilliant prose that leaves all aspiring writers trembling with the knowledge that they will never be able to pen a phrase with Mr. Duncan's profound beauty -- and being completely at peace with that realization) how deftly it makes the reader feel every range of emotion the characters experience. I lived and died with everything Gabriel felt, right until the crashing climax. He's such a vividly depicted character that it's almost tragic to imagine a world where he's just a fictional player. He's far from perfect, which makes him brilliantly human.

An absolutely shattering, beautiful read. Like everything else of Mr. Duncan's I've devoured (and loved), this is one of those novels I just want to shove in someone's face and order them to read it. Immediately.

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