Within three days in the month July, I heard about Arthur Phillips’ novel Prague three different times. I figured that was a sign. A book with this much lip service’some of it coming from the New York Times and some of it coming from a friend of mine’had to be good.
I was wrong. After this plodding Prague and the Nanny Diaries debacle, I’m not so sure I can rely on the Times for being the holy grail of good bookness.
So the book follows a bunch of American and Canadian expatriates who inhabit Budapest shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Wow, couldn’t pretty rad? What with the fall of communism and rebuilding this ancient, beautiful city’how could it suck?
Here’s how, the author couldn’t give a rat’s ass about his characters. The five main characters of the book are just boring as all get out. Most of them just sorta disappear from the novel and you are sad to admit that you really don’t’ care. It’s almost as though Phillips’ got bored writing about those characters so he just quit and hoped nobody would notice.
There are, however, two interesting co-starring characters– Nadja, a mysterious, storytelling, ancient piano-player that the young John Price discovers in a Hungarian jazz club and Budapest. The city plays a major roll in the novel and it seems that Phillips’ saves all his affection for describing the city and not for developing his characters.
The entire book has a very 1991 feeling to it, which I suppose is a good thing. After all, the book does take place in the early 90s. But that doesn’t make it any better.
All that sort of bitterness for not being a part of something bigger than yourself (i.e. the fall of Communism), that restlessness, that why bother feeling’it’s kind of boring and immature now in 2002. I didn’t have any sympathy for the characters and mostly just wanted to tell them to grow-up.
If you’re looking for lush descriptions of Budapest, than Prague is for you. If not, skip it.