Having studied Letham at University, I was incredibly excited to hear about his release of a new novel, and was eager to get my hands on some contemporary American writing in the moment.
I had enjoyed Letham for his easygoing, readable style matched with a sense of literariness which make him both interesting to study and fun to read. I was not disappointed by his newest piece of work: The Blot.
The novel dives straight in to the world of Alexander Bruno – jetting around Europe, conning rich men through that incredibly sexy form of gambling known as… backgammon? We soon find out that he is no James Bond – or at least a very inept one – as he is losing more money than he is making. Completely bankrupt, Alexander’s life, like much of the novel is obscured by a ‘blot’. The novel centres around ideas of obscurity and maskedness, as well as cancer – the possible cause of Bruno’s life threatening visual impairment. This is the kind of theme that I was hoping to unpick further, but other than to a poetic irony (don’t want to give any spoilers away!) I didn’t feel it really led anywhere.
The novel is certainly readable, and if anything the lack of obvious plot drives you forward; you want to find out what happens to these absurd characters. However, if I thought I was going to get any kind of profound take on contemporary America there was something left to be desired – Lethem’s novel doesn’t hide it’s post-modern roots at all, which hinders it from really being of the moment.
Lethem doesn’t take on any social commentary or political satire with this novel – his debt to Pynchon perhaps ending with his style. Instead we get interesting and odd characters, in ludicrous and absurd situations making for a read which, if lacking in meaning or a point, is at the very least, enjoyable.
I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.
Image from Penguin Books