Sometimes the impression you get from a book’s description is the right one and sometimes it’s the wrong one. Sometimes when that impression is wrong, you find you enjoy the book just the same and sometimes you don’t—or at least, you don’t enjoy it as much as you might have if it was closer to what you were expecting. The soon-to-be-released How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas wasn’t as close to the description as I might’ve hoped. There were elements and themes I definitely found relatable, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed the novel as a whole; of course, I can’t say that I hated it either. I just found myself incredibly indifferent over all.
Isidore Mazal is the youngest in his family. With three older sisters and two older brothers, all incredibly intelligent and blindly dedicated to their studies and academic pursuits, Isidore is the only one of his siblings who seems to be able to connect with people outside the family with relative ease. His siblings often baffle him as much as he appears to baffle them. As major changes alter the dynamics of the family, Isidore searches for ways to connect with the members of his family.
The biggest issue I had with this novel was its structural presentation. The way it was broken down into four sections but not distinctive chapters beyond that left the slow progression feeling tedious. The breaks within each section were inconsistent with some lasting a few paragraphs and others large stretches. The narrative focus was disjointed in a way consistent with other first person narrative structures. It was completely believable and very in keeping with Isidore’s youth, but it didn’t make it any more enjoyable to read for me (but then, I’m picky about first person narrations).
It was probably intentional that, despite how much we see of any of Isidore’s siblings, they seem to remain strangers. Though the novel follows Isidore’s growth and development (as it was always meant to given the fact it’s obviously his story), I was expecting and hoping for a bit more development from the rest of the characters though, I think a lot of this is simply that the others’ development is difficult to track given the sporadic presentation of the narrative. There’s a linear track to the novel as a whole but the first person narration is certainly true to life in the rambling nature of Isidore’s observations and the way he slips into complete tangents.
Perhaps it’s really just that I failed to connect with Isidore himself that left me so indifferent to this novel. I could easily follow his train of thought and his reactions to a lot of things but they failed to catch and hold my interest. As his friend in the novel tells him, he’s too literal about things. His siblings are able to lose themselves in something, whether it’s from avoidance of something else or from genuine interest, but there doesn’t seem to be much of anything that truly interests Isidore. He may have an easier time relating to those outside the family but he doesn’t have any obvious passion, and while it makes sense for a character going through the changes Isidore does in the novel, it—again—doesn’t make it particularly enjoyable to for me as a reader.
How to Behave in a Crowd will be available for purchase tomorrow, August 15, 2017.