It seems I am on a bit of a mental illness kick lately with my book choices, and though I very much enjoyed the last one, I am sad to say this fell quite short of my expectations.
Quick Summary: On a Spring day in a meadow area that people are fond to go picnicking in, a man and his wife are settling down to do just that. The man is Joe and his wife Clarissa, a couple whose picturesque lunch turns into a scene of disaster. A hot air balloon with a boy inside is being dragged away by the wind. Joe and five other men run to help the panicked grandfather who has already gotten a hold of one rope. During this struggle, a tragedy occurs where one of the men is killed. When the scene is quite with the men who lived, something passes between Joe and one of the men-Parry, though only Parry realizes this at the time. From that moment Joe’s life becomes unraveled as he deals with Parry’s beliefs, his wife’s disbelief, and his own rationalism.
Righto, so I’m going to jump into what attracted me to this book in the first place. Learning about mental illnesses is one of my favorite hobbies and this book describes one that I had not come across before. De Clérambault’s syndrome or the better known term Erotomania, is a mental illness in which the afflicted persons believes that another person is in love with them (often but not always someone of higher social status, as well as often but not always a stranger). The confession of love from this unsuspecting person does not come in verbally saying so, but in expressions, signs, hidden messages, body posture and language, or sometimes telepathy. With these “signs of love” from the other person, the one with Erotomania then returns their feelings with letters, phone calls, gifts, visitation, etc. This often evolves into harassment, stalking, and many times violence from the unrequited affections they are seeking. If you tell the person with Erotomania that you do not love them, that you give no signs, they can take this as you trying to hide this love you “feel” from your family, friends, spouse, or that you are trying to test their own love for you.
Whew! Sorry for the long explanation, but I felt it was needed since it is not only a core part of the book but also why I was so interested in this illness. It’s a pretty strange one that is apparently rather rare in individuals. So, onward to the actual book and what little I enjoyed and the large majority of it which I sadly did not.
I shall start with our protagonist Joe. Joe is an older man in his forties, beginning to bald, and a bit rotund. He used to teach science and attempted to have a career in it, but it crashed in flames. Now he does scientific or research papers as a freelancer. Joe is a man who deals with reason, with facts, and science. We learn about this in many long winded paragraphs about his work, how he feels about his work, and what bits of research he does on his work. I understand trying to show a characters personality through his actions and motives, however I just felt it went on and on about it, and more then once I either skimmed over or had to reread the paragraph. It was so dry, and maybe I’m just really not a fan of prose. He loves his beautiful wife and is often amazed at how she is with a guy like him. Through the book we are told this story from Joe’s point of view, yet with all of his writing and what we learn about him, I still feel like he lacks any real depth. His reactions and emotions fall a little short, he feels a little flat.
Clarissa the wife, is probably the most boring and confusing character in this whole thing. She is a professor who adores Keats, and is supposed to be in an easy loving seven year relationship with Joe. However, her reactions to the whole plot come off as unrealistic for someone in her position and often times childish. Example, Joe gets a phone call that bothers him and doesn’t tell his wife for two days. She takes this as a huge offense and gets defensive about it. Joe wasn’t trying to hide it from her, he just had a bit going on dealing with the balloon mans death and Parry beginning to stalk him. When a revelation about Parry comes to play that she denied in the beginning, she accuses Joe of not coming to her for help, for shutting her out, etc. Wait…Joe came to her plenty of times and she dismissed his worry every single time. She even chastised him and questioned his motives for what he was doing, seeming totally unconcerned and a bit selfish. I had absolutely no sympathy for her whatsoever in the book, and once more she seemed very flat.
I’ll leave Parry out of the character bit because there isn’t really much to him as a person, he is only his mental illness. Which is a little sad, because he could have been expanded to be much more.
Continuing on, eventually the analytic way Joe thought and spoke began to wear down on my and flitted off into dry writing. I wanted to feel empathy for him, yet the way he was written just made me not really care. I felt more sympathy for Parry to be honest. On the flip side of long writing, I actually enjoyed the letters Parry wrote to Joe. They were a bit long and poetic, but it showed what he was thinking and where he was coming from really well. The interaction with the police force felt a little unrealistic and frustrating as well. Yes, technically the police couldn’t arrest Parry for what he was doing, yet they couldn’t send someone to question or talk to him about maybe not stalking Joe so much? Honestly, I think they would have at least done something instead of “just deal with it, the guy isn’t really doing anything.”
Religion vs science, faith vs rationalism was played up a lot in this book. To an annoying point. I felt it was dead horse hit with a stick going on. Perhaps it if was more subtle in a few cases or portrayed in not such a stark way every time. It became a mantra, and I felt like it was forced into my face each time, which was unappealing. I have nothing wrong with showing characters through their faith or absence of. I don’t need you to hold my hand and point it out each time though. I feel like the author was trying to write about the complexity of humanity, how faith can help and hinder just as rationality can, different sides of relationships and how humans react to such relationships, etc.
The ending seemed to fall short, it wrapped up a few ending nicely at least though. I enjoy ‘sad/bad’ ending books every once in a while, happily ever afters can get old. This didn’t really seem to fall into any category though. I just…kind of ended.
I really did want to like this book since it is generally given such high reviews. It was just not for me. 2/5 rating.