Updated on August 5, 2015
41. ‘Tree of Codes’ by Jonathan Safran Foer
You may remember a while ago I blogged about this book:
It’s Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer, who took a penknife to a book and used it to create a whole new story.
At last I got around to reading this little marvel and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Of course, it was probably the novelty factor of reading a book full of holes that made it so enjoyable, but I thought it was an interesting, well executed concept.
Tree of Codes follows an I-narrator and particularly his relationship with his parents. He grows alienated from his mother and watches as his father descends into madness, all against a backdrop of overgrown houses and lush vegetation. The style reminded me a lot of Pessoa: there are beautiful little snippets of melancholy dotted throughout the narrative, such as:
“The hours of darkness hardened with boredom. One cut them with blunt knives.”
Having read Tree of Codes, I decided that it really wouldn’t be fair to review it without also reading the original text: Bruno Schulz’ The Street of Crocodiles. So I got it on my Kindle and dived in. And pretty quickly dived back out again.
The thing is, I often read first thing in the morning, so the bare minimum requirement for any book is that it wakes me up. No, less than that, that it at least doesn’t put me to sleep. And I’m afraid to say that Schulz did put me to sleep. It’s not that the writing’s bad – far from it – and I’ve read plenty of bad books in bed, but it was just so dense that I could barely keep my eyes open.
If it had an exciting plot I’d be drawn in; if it was gorgeously written I wouldn’t be able to stop reading; hell, even if it was really bad my rage would keep me awake. But this was like wading through a waist-high swamp, albeit a beautiful one, and suffocating in the swamp mist. All I could think was well done Safran Foer for distilling the beauty of this book into Tree of Codes.
In the end I gave up. It was dull, slow and utterly soporific. Sure, it had beautiful moments, but when I look at my progress through the book every few seconds, wishing it would go faster, I realise it’s better just to give it up. So there we have it, the first book I’ve given up on this year and probably the last.
Who knows, maybe I’ll try again with Schulz someday, after I’d had a lot of coffee.
– gildius –