Perhaps it's not fair to expect the writer of a wonderfully witty play ([b:'Art'|284022|'Art'|Yasmina Reza|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347254006s/284022.jpg|275545]) to be as good at writing a novella, even one that is really just one long soliloquy. Nevertheless, I was sorely disappointed by this rather unpleasant book.
Some reviews describe this as "comic", but the narrator was just nasty, with very little humour that I could see (and I say that as one who often enjoys books that lack sympathetic characters).
Anyway, this is the ramblings and rantings of 73 year old man to his estranged 38 year old son. He moans about his son, his first wife (the son's mother), his second wife (Nancy), his mistress (Marissa/Christine), his housekeeper (whose faults include "existential positivism"!), friends, and others. He is self-obsessed, self-pitying, shares inappropriate details about his sex life, rattles on about the philosophy of dead friends the son is unlikely to care about, and the ending is horrid. There is also some pseudo-psychological stream-of-consciousness, general bile, and a dash of paranoia concerning his wife and housekeeper.
He claims, more than once, to want to know what happiness means, and yet his wife's happiness and zest for life infuriate him (it just puzzles me; I'd have left him or killed myself - or him!) and he is explicitly not pleased to be told that his son is happy. Later, he suggests "The road to happiness... is perhaps the road to oblivion".
The son is apparently non-productive, but happily travelling the world; had he been chasing women, the father wouldn't have minded so much.
The father has always been disappointed by his "average" son, "I would have liked you better as a criminal or a terrorist than as a militant in the cause of happiness". Both his wives accuse him of traumatising the son. His feelings about his son include "If I weren't moved by some degree of pity and affection for you, I'd find you repellent" and "If I loved you, I certainly didn't build an alter to your status as a child". Note that both start with "if
His views of the housekeeper and her repairman husband (both of whom are Portuguese) are even worse, as he thinks of them as barely human, "Do they suffer as much as we do?... Without an imagination, you can't suffer." He is, culturally, Jewish, and particularly dislikes Jews who take on more of the trappings of Jewish identity.
When his daughter (a "cow") encourages him to read, now that he has spare time, he is less inclined to do so than if her reason was that he had less
time; he attibutes this to her failure to understand him, rather than his contrariness.
The nearest he comes to self-awareness is when he says "Don't let yourself be upset, my boy, by my deplorable rantings... I make myself odious, I make myself utterly ugly to test your affection". That may be true, but it only serves to emphasise his unpleasantness.
There are a few good lines:
* "As she crunches her little piece of buttered toast with honey her eyes are marking out the hidden boundaries of her day... The woman is so upbeat, it's a nightmare."
* A friend, who has observed a tree, almost unchanged, in forty years, has noticed "time's shattering indifference".
* "We are only kissing the masks that hide the face of abandonment."
* "Another person's empty presence is the greatest lack of all... I can take your hand, and yet you couldn't be farther away. In your eyes I read your utter incomprehension... I read my abandonment."
As it is billed as humorous, the bits that come close include a friend's Viagra exploits . And that's it, so it should be "bit" (singular)!
At 136 pages of largish print, I read it in one sitting; had I stopped part way through, I might not have bothered to pick it back up. Not recommended (in case you hadn't figured that out by now).
Julian Barnes covers similarly territory SO much better in his brilliant "The Sense of an Ending" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/309538011), which I rated 5*