The Idiot – Elif Batuman

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I did not enjoy this book and don’t understand the praise it got, but you have to admire Elif Batuman for having the panache to give her debut novel the same name as one of the most notable Russian pieces of literature.

The Idiot gets a lot of praise for the humor in particular, and to this I say, huh? If you asked me to characterize this book, “funny” would be very low on the list of adjectives I’d use. Selin is clever, for sure, and the sense of humor she does have is extremely dry, but at no point while reading this did I laugh out loud. At most I did one of those “exhale air quickly through the nose” sounds – you know the one I mean.

I also didn’t care much for her as a protagonist. The narration has a distant quality to it so that I never connected with her, and while the first half of the book was interesting to me because it was set on campus and I recognized the buildings and locations referenced, the second half set in Hungary pretty much lost me. Her stay there seemed dreary and nondescript, and she was so caught up with Ivan the whole time anyway. And speaking of Ivan, what a rubbish guy. Dude’s got a girlfriend, yet is hanging out suspiciously frequently with a freshman and emailing her long, heartfelt messages? Come on.

Thinking maybe I was missing something major, I read some critics’ reviews, who largely lauded the book for perfectly encapsulating the mindset of a college freshman amidst a whirlwind new environment and freshly infatuated. I mean…I guess? The description isn’t technically wrong, yet the book just goes about it in such a boring, staid, rambly way that I couldn’t wait to finish.

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