Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Broadway Book Club Discussion of The Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan

About half of us in attendance managed to finish the book, some citing a grating style of prose as the reason for abandoning, some were unmotivated to continue by the lacklustre plot and characters. Those that did finish found it a bit of a chore, and hadn't enjoyed it hugely.

We thought that the setting was fascinating and loved the idea of getting a glimpse into the lives of black and mixed race Germans/Americans living in soon-to-be-Nazi Germany and how difficult life must have been, but we felt that the story itself wasn't really worth telling and we felt that it wasn't executed particularly well. Jazz is often presented as a sort of magnet for social oddballs, drawing people in from society's fringes, so thematically it married really well with between-the-Wars Berlin, which apparently attracted lots of renegade fringe artists and musicians at that time. It was commented that the writing style was quite unconvincing and Sid’s vernacular was a little slapdash- one member remarked that the prose was an odd and inconsistent mixture of literary and patois which was off-putting. We thought the author was probably an excellent historian, who painstakingly researched the era and crafted the architecture of Berlin and Paris very well, but forgot to add enough foreground. Being a good historian doesn't necessarily make a good storyteller.

As far as the characters go, I think confusion and dislike were most prevalent. Sid in particular won no fans- while I myself mostly felt sorry for him, many others found him thoroughly dislikeable, bitter and jealous. Overall we found Sid to be a generally terrible person, Chip to be a huge liar and Heiro to be a massive contradiction. The Heiro of the novel's beginning (chronologically the end) seemed to be a totally different person to the Heiro that was in the rest of the novel. In the beginning, he seems like a reckless and headstrong young kid whose stubborn desire for milk leads to him being seized by the Nazis. The Heiro in the rest of the novel is a shy, naive protégée who barely speaks two words together. It just didn’t add up. In a similar sense, many of us struggled to get the timeline in order- the jumping around from the 1930s to the 1990s was easy enough, but the order of events in the 1930s became a bit muddled and we were never sure how long certain scenes went on for (were they hiding out at the club for days? Weeks? It was hard to tell)

One member (who it has to be said, was the only person present that knew anything about Jazz) found the Jazz of the story unconvincing, particularly the way the characters cut the record, and the way the characters appeared to have no training or context, they just popped up out of nowhere. We also agreed that the presentation of the Jazz musician’s lifestyle seemed a bit stereotypical, which disconnected us further from the characters.

We discussed the appearance 2/3 of the way through of Louis Armstrong and how disjointed this felt within the narrative. We agreed it was unconvincing and incongruous for a real-life figure to pop up amongst fictional creations. We felt this might have worked better if this character was a new creation inspired by the real life Louis, rather than randomly inserting him into the narrative. In an already hazy book, this attempt at blurring the line between fiction and reality just didn't pay off.

We discussed the ending, (for those of us that got to it!) and concluded that it felt rushed, too keen to tie up the loose ends. Apart from being slightly unbelievable, it felt odd. We just couldn't believe that Chip, a generally unpleasant character didn't have an agenda for seeking out his long-thought-dead friend. We also though Hiro would have been considerably more angry at Sid’s revelation.

In conclusion. we felt that it focused too much on the love triangle and jealousy element, and kind of forgot about the musical and social elements of the story. One member described it as Hollyoaks meets Fear & Loathing in Nazi Germany, which just about sums it up! Though there were some compelling scenes (mostly fleeing Berlin and Paris) and some characters that we really liked that died or disappeared early (Paul, mostly) I think it was a resounding ‘Meh’ from most of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment