Friday, January 14, 2011

Book 10: The Little Book

The Little Book by Selden Edward

I loved the first half of this book. It was just perfect. The last half had a few flaws but overall, I would still recommend the novel. The novel begins with the hero walking down Ringstrasse of 1897 Vienna, Austria. He doesn't remember how he got there, nor does he spend too much time wondering about the "when." Wheeler Burden from 1988 America quickly realizes that he needs to find some new clothes to blend in, though, and steals them from a traveler at a hotel.

The novel doesn't spend too much of the next few hundred pages trying to explain the idea of time travel. Instead it goes back and forth between Wheeler's time in Vienna, a subject he has only recently published a book on, and his childhood. The first half is both time travel story and a Bildungsroman. While it was fun seeing Wheeler meet various famous personalities in turn of the century Vienna, I quite enjoyed the stories about his eccentric and unique youth. Additionally, there is also quite a bit of story from the perspective of Wheezie Putnam, a young Bostonian woman traveling in Vienna and writing articles under a male pseudonymn. Vienna is an incredibly cultured and incredibly conflicted city at this time - the youth want a revolution, the mayor is one of the first to use anti-semitism as a campaign message in the way he does, psychoanalysis is being born in Freud's office, and World War I is just around the corner. It is a fascinating time. In fact, books have been written about the time, and the phrase fin-de-siecle is most associated with this time period (though most strongly with Paris, not Vienna). While Edward does a great job of bringing this period of history to life, the novel is strongest when it is focusing on its characters' stories.

As I said the first half of the novel was perfect - Edward would foreshadow his characters' futures just enough to be interesting without being annoying, I loved Wheeler's mother and grandmother, and I was excited to see how everything would be connected. Burden's family has always been fascinated with Freud and his work so it is no surprise that he takes the opportunity to meet the man - after all, it would be hard to mention Vienna without mentioning one of its most famous thinkers of that period. However, while I enjoyed Wheeler and Freud's conversations, I was less than enthused when Edward chose to have Wheeler use psychoanalysis on another character - it seemed a bit contrived to me. While I actually enjoyed the idea of two of his characters together, I felt like the conversation between them in the last half of the novel was unrealistic, and combined with its psychoanalytical flavor, it left a bad taste in my mouth. It also seemed like the characters started repeating themselves a bit in the last half, making comments and telling each other things they had already told each other. It was only a few small comments but I wondered why the author repeated them, whether he'd forgotten he'd already mentioned these things or if he was trying to emphasize them. However, other than those issues (and really, it was mostly the application of Freudian analysis that was an issue), it was a very original and entertaining read. Of course, since my mom is German, there were a few other pieces that were of interest to me - Empress Elizabeth made an appearance (there was a movie trilogy about her made in '50s Germany called Sissy which my grandmother used to watch), and they mention a cafe/bakery that is several centuries old that I visited when I was in Vienna almost two years ago. I don't think "Sissy" is even very famous in the States, but she was orginally from Germany, and due to the mini-series her name is still very well know. Additionally, she was rather popular in Hungary when it was part of Austro-Hungarian Empire - they even still have a bridges or parks named in her honor in Budapest.

No comments: