Wednesday, April 18, 2012
A novel with no plot - but with great writing: The Orphan Master's Son
No doubt Adam Johnson's "The Orphan Master's Son" is a nontraditional novel - and not nontraditional in the metafiction or experimental or avant garde sense so endeared by my colleagues and friends at many graduate writing programs but nontraditional in that - at least for the first 100 pages or so - there's narrative but essentially no plot. It's not that the novel is inaccessible - it's totally accessible, and completely fascinating reading, a vivid and horrific account of life within the isolated and strange and oppressive country of North Korea - amazing that Johnson can imagine all of this (is it accurate? it seems so) or learn all of this (how could he even have done this research? is it based on a source document, as I've heard?) - I probably would lose interest - and I'm not sure yet that I'll finish this rather long novel - because I tend to favor novels that have strong character development and a satisfying, not to say traditional, arc to the story, and this has neither (there's a central character, Jun Do, but we have little access to his interior life) - except the writing is great, scene after scene - the ones I've just finished have Jun Do, at about age 20, working as a radio spy aboard a fishing trawler, he picks up strange frequencies at night and the fishermen aboard are fascinated by his work - and then they're boarded by an American Navy vessel - all told dramatically yet simply - and scenes like this will keep me interested and keep me reading, at least for a while - but can a whole novel progress without a central conflict, without a path of development for the central character?