Contented Reader

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Lavie Tidhar


I had heard about Osama when it came out, but my public library didn’t have a copy of it, and I forgot about its existence until it won the World Fantasy Award, at which point I felt a certain obligation to give it a try.

The reviews I read talked about how complex, difficult, and inaccessible it was, so I braced myself for that.  They all said that it was hard to engage with, and very confusing, but ultimately worth the effort.  Well, I’m not afraid of a challenging, dense novel.  I liked Ulysses and The Drowning Girl. 

This was, incidentally, the first book I got with my brand-spanking-new Audible subscription, which I think I’m going to like having.  Having a good book on the iPod really makes rolling out of bed and going to the gym more appealing.

Here’s the thing, though- I didn’t find it difficult at all.  I couldn’t work out what had been so challenging and inaccessible to the other people who read it.

It’s a noir-style hard-boiled detective story.  The main character, Joe, is a private detective so classic that he’s barely a character at all.  He is hired by a mysterious woman to find a writer named Mike Longshot, who writes a series of torrid men’s adventures called “Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante.”

It’s an alternate universe story, about a world where there isn’t any terrorism at all, a world in which the whole history that led to Islamist terrorism never happened, and is known only as a trashy and implausible fiction.

It’s a parallel-worlds story, in which the world I live in and the world Joe lives in just barely connect with one another.  In order to find Mike Longshot, Joe is, I assumed from a very early chapter, going to have to uncover the truth about his universe and ours, and how they connect.

Okay, yes, I hadn’t seen these three classic story types all rolled into one novel before, but it all seemed very reasonable to me, and they worked together perfectly smoothly. 

And then I got to the ending, and realized that there had been a fourth thing going on in this book, that I had not understood at all. 

I closed the book (metaphorically, since it was an audiobook.  In fact, I turned off the iPod) and shrugged.  ‘That was a pretty good book,’ I said, ‘and I enjoyed it.  But I don’t quite get why everyone has been talking about it so much, or why it won the big award.  It isn’t that much better than any other good book.’

That was a few days ago.  But the ending of the book keeps coming back to me.  I keep rolling it over in my head, and it keeps becoming more important to me.  I’ll be driving to work, listening to something else entirely, and suddenly I’m reflecting on the conclusion of Osama and what it means, for Joe and for me.

And I guess that’s what a great book does, isn’t it?  Sticks with you, and illuminates your experiences?  So maybe this is a great book after all.

I think I need to read it again.


Written by Contented Reader

December 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

Posted in Reviews


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