Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Review - Him, Her, Him Again, The End of Him by Patricia Marx

How far would you go for love? Would you give the object of your affections flowers every day, or perhaps perform serenades outside their homes while ignoring the complaining neighbours? Would you follow them to the ends of the earth, even while knowing that they do not and cannot possibly love you back? Would their denial of love for you only increase yours for them? Love is a wonderful (and dangerous) thing; it can make us feel as light as a feather, or cause us to go on a downward spiral of gloom and depression while writing heart wrenching poetry during a rainy day. Love affects all of us and no one is a stranger to it. Take, for example, the unnamed female narrator of Patricia Marx’s black humoured novel Him, Her, Him Again,The End of Him; our narrator is an Oxford graduate student who idolizes Sylvia Plath, loves books for the simple sake of having them in her room, and would much rather change her focus of study several times rather than actually focus on the art of studying. She is the epitome of university students everywhere and is yet the worst example of them; what she lacks in pursuing a graduate degree she makes up for in her own cerebral wit and charm.
Our narrator lives in her tightly knit and eccentric world of stimulating intellectual conversations against a backdrop of England without too many worries except for when the next check from her parents will arrive. And then, it all changes, thanks to a man named Eugene. Whereas our narrator is a dilettante of academia, endlessly fluttering around without any care, Eugene is a scholar of the obscure and archaic, a student of the world, and a narcissist that will leave you screaming and running for the hills. The two fall for each other during a date one night, instantly leading to a motley array of years filled with hypochondriac women, the birth of a child named Perseus, the opening of a crepe store in Ethiopia, a job involving eating candy bars, pseudo-intellectualism and its strange attraction to those who profess it, and much more that could only be thought of by a former writer of Saturday Night Live.
The humour at the beginning of the book was steady, giving the reader no room to breathe between paragraphs or while turning the pages. As the novel and the main relationship progresses, the humour begins to plateau and even falter somewhat; the narrator does nothing to change her unbearable situation with Eugene but instead finds some way to perpetuate it for it appears that that is what defines her in some sad and pathetic way. She remains an indecisive and wasteful young woman, one who skates by with barely an effort on anything and yet has a strange sense of good luck on her side at times. Her relationship with Eugene slowly descended into something wasteful and several times I found myself wondering why I was still reading the book. Only towards the end was there some form of redemption but I will always wonder if it came too late and too melodramatic in the narrator’s life. When I finished the book, I had no love for the narrator at the beginning and it remained the same to the end. If that was Marx’s ultimate goal in writing this book, then she did a grand job.

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