A Personal Matter

A Personal Matter

There is no doubt in my mind that A Personal Matter is a skilfully executed piece of literature.  And I hated reading it. The main character, Bird, is a 27 year old who dreams of going to Africa.  When his son is born with a brain hernia, he is faced with deciding between surgery for his son (which may or may not allow him to develop normally) and preventing the surgery and allowing the baby to die.

Maybe it's because I'm a young father myself, but the very idea that Bird would even consider allowing his baby to die disgusted me.  Reading this book was a disturbing, and unpleasant experience.  At the same, the mere fact that Oe was able to illicit these feelings in me as strongly as he has shows that he is good at what he does.  Unfortunately, what he did here is create a character so selfish and depraved that I actively hated him while reading.

With all that said, this brings up an interesting question:  do I recommend a book that I hated reading, one full of characters I found offensive and deplorable if it was all intentional?  How do you handle situations like this?  Do you still recommend the book even though you hated it in terms of content, because it's an example of good writing?  Or do you choose from myriad other books that are contain good writing, but are not despicable?  I would certainly never recommend this book outright, but I have to admit, if you want something that deals with difficult problems in a vicious manner this book is perfect for you.

"But it seems that reality compels you to live properly when you live in the real world" (164).


Christy on 04/16/2010 7:44 p.m.

I think the best thing to do is to lay it out like you did here, which then allows the reader to work it out for themselves. Depending on the book, you can recommend with caution or caveats. That way, people can sort out if it's the type of book they would read. As for myself, this doesn't sound like a book I would like to read. I don't mind gritty and hard themes, but I prefer to have a somewhat sympathetic protagonist, which it doesn't sound like this book has.

Kathleen on 04/18/2010 8:30 a.m.

I know what you mean about books like this. It's how I felt about <i>Wicked</i>, although not to such an extreme extent. I can appreciate that the writing is good, but if I don't like any of the characters or relate to them I won't enjoy reading it.

Scott on 04/18/2010 2:12 p.m.

I agree - I would have been far more positive about this book and to Bird as a character if he were in any way sympathetic. Again, I understand this was intentional, and that there's a certain "reality" to this, but that doesn't make me have to like it!

Scott on 04/18/2010 2:13 p.m.

Thanks - I'm definitely enjoying what I'm reading right now more than this one!

Scott on 04/18/2010 2:15 p.m.

Very glad to hear I'm not alone in this. I was starting to be afraid that I wasn't giving due consideration to the craft of the book. In the end, though, reading is a past-time so at some point it simply has to be enjoyable or else what's the point?

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