The Missing Shade of Blue did not disappoint. A delightful read, really. The relationships became messy indeed, and the novel never got stuck in a particular genre. The novel contains many spirited, clever conversations mixed with everyday life and a bit of feel-good and pathos in equal portions.
The play on words became a bit forced sometimes (“I thought he meant…when he said ‘seeing someone’ “), and the philosophical discussions a bit laboured at times (“But is there really such a thing like free will?”). However, a lot of the philosophy and the linguistics were worked into the story really well.
If you’re looking for an intelligent novel with a mix of the hilarious and the absurd, this might be just the book for you.
I saw The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal reveiwed in the Economist the other week. When it said it was about a translator and messy relationships – along with lots of references to Hume, philosphy and linguistics – I decided instantly that this was a book for me. I popped into the BookWorld in the Dubai Mall and there it was on the shelf! Living in the UAE, it’s not always easy to lay your hands on a newly reviewed book, but this time I was lucky. Not many minutes elapsed between me reading the Economist review on my iPad and paying for the book. The BookWorld is quickly becoming my favourite bookshop in the UAE.
I’m on page 86 at the moment and I’m not disappointed. I love the writing style. It’s subtle, ironic, with understatements and quirky details. For example, a university librarian at the National Library in Edinburgh has a cough that is a “perfect trochaic tetrameter”, matching the Shakespeare line “So awake when I am gone; for I must now to Oberon” – except that it is “one cough short”. This is exactly the kind of observation that makes a character interesting.
Now, I’m waiting for the relationships to get messy.
Spoiler alert! It’s kind of interesting that I wrote “this novel has got bite” in my last review of The House of the Mosque. I was about three-quarter through the book at that stage, and the charming, picturesque portrait of the house and the mosque and the people around it started to give way to a harsher realism. Just a few pages later, the story turned quite brutal and the narration became a stinging critique of the way the Iranian Revolution played out. Clever structure and a real turnaround. Quite a surprise as well, which is why I think it’s a good read. Yet, the language was surprisingly constrained and the narration still kept a certain distance to events.
Looking back at the novel as a whole, I feel that (as mentioned earlier) the first half or so of the book paints a picture of a society that is ordered and in harmony with itself. It’s Iranian society as a well-woven fabric with many different strands and threads, but it’s a complete whole. In the second half of the novel, this fabric is slowly, but cruelly – and very brutally – destroyed, ripped to bits. When order is restored at the end, it’s primarily done by describing harmony returning as an internal, personal process.
My earlier thoughts about the narrator were both shattered and confirmed in the last couple of pages when he introduced himself as one of the characters in the book, Shahbal. I somehow managed to miss the note on Sahhbal as the narrator on the characters page! He’s now living in Holland, and is someone who seems very similar to the author. With Shahbal as the narrator, it confirms the early feeling I had that the house of the mosque itself was the narrator – the house is telling its story. But as Shahbal is drawn away from the house and becomes involved in the bigger picture, the narrative voice gets a wider scope as well. The voice is a bit school-teachery in a way – it has a message – but you can discern the person underneath, someone who wants to convey a message through a story, someone who wants to provide clarity.
I get the feeling that this novel follows the conventions of some form of Iranian narrative style – of which I’m not familiar – and the ending is kind of too tidy for my taste. But be that as it may, I got a lot out of reading this novel and the story is haunting. Memorable. Definitely a worthwhile read.