Autumn Reading: ‘City of Light’ by Lauren Belfer

February 20, 2012 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

In the first flush of excitement at being out of graduate school, I read a good deal of unabashedly fluffy stuff this past autumn. I’ll be posting reviewlets of these books for the next few weeks.

I read Lauren Belfer’s City of Light about a decade after everyone else I know, but since I disliked it so intensely, I’m glad I didn’t read it when it first came out and caused a sensation in Buffalo or I would have spent all my time arguing with everyone about it. As it is, I can safely say, away from any put-out Buffalonians one hopes, that I found it hugely disappointing and kind of pointless.

My main irritation with the book stemmed from its protagonist. I did not empathize, sympathize, or in any other way emotionally understand or connect with her. Every action she took seemed purposefully idiotic and/or counter-intuitive. She alternately claimed to be both fettered by society and freed from it by her alternative lifestyle (a single woman who works at school hardly seems bohemian) and her purported struggles never elicited much other than annoyance from me. It’s as if both she and Belfer were afraid to actually go anywhere interesting with her character, so they kept her treading water for the entire novel.

Since this infuriating protagonist is the centerpiece of the novel, the plot is almost secondary, but it’s even more pedantic as Belfer tries to stuff about twelve different strands of concurrent history into her story. I appreciate her efforts to note the synergy of a historical moment in time, but it made the novel move like molasses and be about equally enjoyable. (Have I mentioned I dislike molasses?)

On the whole, I forced myself through to the very end and was exhausted and frustrated by the end of it. Can anyone else who has read this book point me in the direction of what I was supposed to enjoy?

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Entry filed under: Historical Fiction. Tags: , , , .

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