Thursday, February 7, 2019

Ok, Mr. Field

Title:  Ok, Mr. Field
Author:  Katherine Kilalea
Publication Information:  Tim Duggan Books. 2018. 224 pages.
ISBN:  0525573631 / 978-0525573630

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I woke to several different noises, something being picked up and put down, a tap being turned on and off."

Favorite Quote:  "Nobody cares about one's personal trials and griefs, I thought. One's trials and griefs are boring."

Many books have been written recently about older characters at a crossroads in life. Circumstances, often a crisis, prompts an examining of life and often a dramatic change. This books is another addition to that canon.

Mr. Field is, or rather was, a concert pianist in London. An accident unfortunately puts that career in jeopardy. Looking for a change, Mr. Field purchases a house and moves to a remote site on the South African coast outside of Cape Town. The house is designed by a South African architect but inspired by the Villa Savoye, a French home designed by Swiss architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier. Both the architect and the building are considered pioneers of modern architecture. The Villa Savoye has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Mind you, no such replica actually exists in South Africa; I actually did look that up to determine if the book has a historical context. An interest in that setting leads me to read this book. A South African setting, a character at a turning point in his life, and iconic architecture - I want to see where the author goes with this combination. Unfortunately, I find it challenging to follow or to draw the connections.

The South African setting seems almost incidental to the story. It seems to serve two purposes. One, the description seems to imply a remote, isolated setting even though it is outside of Cape Town, a major city. The sense of isolation seems to as much metaphorical as physical. Two, the environment is something completely foreign to the main character. This again reinforces his sense of isolation.

The main character - Mr. Field - remains as remote as the setting.  I am not even sure he is given a first name. Clearly, the impact of the accident that ends his career has mental and emotional impacts far greater than the physical ones. Clearly, he has the economic capacity to afford to purchase a home and move his life from London to South Africa. Clearly, earning an income is not a central struggle that he faces on a daily basis. Clearly, he is suffering an emotional and mental breakdown. Beyond that, not much becomes clear about Mr. Field. I feel like a detective looking for clues in a rambling narrative to determine what is going on. I know that at some point, his wife Min leaves him. It's never clear how, when or even really why. I assume that it is because of his mental state, but it is never presented. For a book so completely character centered, it is difficult to follow when I can't get to know the character.

Interestingly, the house itself is the other main character of the book. Why is it modeled on the Villa Savoye? I don't know. Why is it set on the coast of South Africa? I don't know. What draws Mr. Field to it other than a whim after seeing a picture? I don't know. What does become the clear is the idea that the house becomes or represents a malevolent spirit permeating Mr. Field's life. Again, why? I don't know. I assume, again, that is is a physical manifestation of his mental state. Again, I don't know.

This book seems to be a lot of dots and not enough connections for the dots to become a complete picture. A frustrating read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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