This is my first book from Sedaris and I think I'll try another. It was entertaining throughout with many parts that made me laugh out loud. He is kind of a modern, politically incorrect, cigarette-loving, drug-addled, openly gay, extra-pathetic Woody Allen with some of the clever and biting observations of George Carlin or Chris Rock. There was one or two low points where his stories dragged, and especially the one on the metro where the ending was a major letdown. His phrasing and comic timing are excellent. His live bits were the best ones. As a narrator his voice was thin and high-pitched but it fit here... especially since these was his own true (hah, probably not without some small exaggerations) life story.
This book has an amateurish feel like the first in this series. The first half is rather dull, with little happening, except for the syrupy love story growing between the two male leads (yes male, and considering the pages and pages spent carefully setting it up, the author must be making a statement here). There are brief bursts of action but the protagonists quickly resolve them. The book at this point feels more like a showcase for the characters and setting.
Once the main threat comes in and the real adventure gets going (about the halfway point) the book clips along well. I found the second half of the book hard to put down. The ending is somewhat predictable but satisfying nonetheless, however the denouement goes on far too long with the resolution of the syrupy love story.
The prose is good overall, but the author uses many fantasy cliches. Not much original in the dialogue either. The characters on the "good" side are excellent and well drawn, but the characters on the "bad" side are simply evil with no redeeming qualities. This is not an issue in fantasy but some authors (e.g. George RR Martin) have been making their villains more three dimensional, which makes the conflicts more interesting. The setting itself is terrific, with a rich background and history, and there are less infodumping problems than in the previous book. I kept thinking this book was rushed through editing. Spice up the beginning and shorten up the ending, cut some of the cliches out of the prose and dialogue, and this book would have been much better.
The narration is adequate. The narrator's voice is clear but he only has two real voices for the characters. This is not a problem, I'm just rating him against some of the excellent narrators I've heard recently who have a unique and convincing voice for every character.
I have always found the brain's inner workings fascinating so I was looking forward to this book, but I didn't want to get lost in medical jargon. Johnson states at the outset that he will only hit the high points, and that was what he did. The jargon was controlled and well explained, and the anecdotes were easy to follow. He repeats himself a lot, and at first I thought this was fluff to fill out the book, but then I realized it helped me remember the concept. Rather than zip from topic to topic, we dwell on one for a while before moving on to the next. This is important because each concept builds on the next.
Johnson's writing style is smooth and clever, and several times I chuckled out loud. The narrator is also good. At first he spoke in a dry monotone and I thought he was going to be horrible, but he got better once the book was well underway.
My only complaint is the book was too short! In the end, it doesn't cover a lot of ground. At least the ground it does cover is well done and topical. Recommended for anyone who is interested in a pop-sci version of neuroscience.
This is by far the best book I have read in years. The opening drew me in immediately. Despite a lot of zoology exposition, it clips along well and I found it fascinating (but then, I find animal behavior fascinating). Martel writes about zoology and zookeeping with authority. Later you realize how important all this discussion is, as it explains how Pi managed to survive with Richard Parker.
Once the main adventure gets going, it is riveting. Highly suspenseful despite the small setting. Throughout, the prose is excellent. I had a hard time putting this book down and I found excuses to catch snatches of it. The ending is satisfying with a touch of mystery, and it makes a point about doubts and what people prefer to believe. Highly, highly recommended.
The narrator is also perfect for this material. He has a light Indian accent but his words are clear and he puts the right inflection when needed. He also does the two other accents very well.
The first 2/3 or so was excellent. I can see why this book as stuck through peoples' minds and so much of it has entered the public lexicon. (Big Brother is watching you! Thought crimes. Thought police.)
The vision was tremendous. One could replace Big Brother with Patriot Act and Fox News and it's applicable to present day. The characters were only mildly interesting (perforce as the idea was the humanity was forced out of them) but the situation they were in made for some terrific tension.
Then the book lapsed into a torture thing that I knew was coming. It went on and on with no apparent purpose. Then there was a long dissertation of party policy and Orwell seemed to be using the book as a political platform. That's not a bad thing, I suppose, if it supports the story, but this went on waaay too long.
In the end, our hero fails and this is becomes a tragic story. Hopefully I'm not spoiling this for anyone but it's no surprise, really. I was expecting something a little more interesting in the ending but it goes out with a whimper.
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