Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thoughts on "Prague"

Cover of "Prague: A Novel"Cover of Prague: A Novel

Pat Conroy bills Arthur Phillips's novel Prague as "one of those books that help define and identify a whole generation, in the same way that Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises introduced his own lost generation.” While the novel held my interest after a slow start, I don't think it's quite in the same ballpark as The Sun Also Rises.

My main problem with the novel is the multiple points of view. The only real character I cared about was John Price, a journalist who comes to Budapest to reconnect with his estranged brother (Oh yeah, even though the novel is entitled Prague, it takes place in Budapest.
Don't ask.). While the novel is told mostly though his eyes, it frequently wanders to some of the minor characters. The novel drags in those places.

Price arrives in Budapest a self-acknowledged virgin, but leaves MUCH more experienced. I don't know if that was meant to enhance the "anything goes" mentality of the newly opened Soviet Bloc countries in the late 80's, but Price certainly got his money's worth.

He spends much of his time in the novel doing promotional work for his friend Charles, a Hungarian-American businessman looking for financial opportunity in his reluctantly adopted homeland. That thread bordered on allegorical as Charles attempts to revive and cash in on an old Hungarian publishing company.

Price and his friends wander through the city experiencing much that is has to offer, but they never really connect with each other. Price has a crush on Emily, and Mark has a crush on Price, but nothing ever gets resolved. Love stinks, yeah, yeah.

The friends play this game where they tell the group five statements and everyone has to guess which one is true. The characters can't even admit the truth about themselves, but they enjoy trying to discern truth in others.

Less Than ZeroImage via Wikipedia

The writing style and characters reminded me of Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (which I enjoyed): a bunch of morally and sexually ambiguous characters stumbling around in search of the next score or the next party. Instead of cocaine, the drug of choice in Prague is alcohol.

Once the novel settled on John Price as its main focus, things began to pick up, but I found some of the threads of the plot distracting and pointless. I may give Phillips another try, but I won't give him as much rope next time.

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