2 out of 4 stars
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George has been in prison for five years. Returning to society, he struggles with his drug addiction, personal and family problems, and a myriad of existential questions. Having educated himself while incarcerated, George seems to find more doubts than answers from his knowledge of philosophy and theology. Can he find a path to happiness?
Marc Olsen’s The life of an idiot is an intense exercise of psychological exploration. There’s barely any plot to speak of; we simply follow George as he tries to navigate the world and cope with his melancholy and stress. Along the way, we’re thrown into wild psychedelic trips where the line between reality and fiction is blurred.
George is a fascinating character with a thoughtful but pessimistic outlook on life. He’s well versed in several fields of knowledge, so his inner monologue fluidly transitions from the Bible to Greek mythology to Ralph Waldo Emerson to Kierkegaard to even things like the Illuminati. Though he yearns for transcendence, his confusion and drug addiction keep him on a tight leash. The whole novel is about the battle between George’s several fragmented selves, with different sides gaining dominance at different points in time.
While I appreciate the raw mental journey in the form of an unfiltered stream of consciousness (the book doesn’t even have chapters; it’s just one continuous narrative), it can be overwhelming at times. The book presents George’s ideas rather matter-of-factly as if they were clear on their own. For example, some characters talk about the “supernal” things without bothering to explain what they mean. I believe they’re analogous to the Forms in Platonism, but most readers would likely have a hard time grasping this concept.
Some psychedelic trips go on for too long without adding much to the narrative and only frustrate the reader instead. In a single rant, the book goes from talking about the truth behind Cain and Abel to denying evolution to claiming that Jesus contacted extraterrestrial beings to much more. While these interludes help you understand the main character’s mind to some extent, they become alienating if done in excess.
I’ve found seven errors in the book, mostly related to punctuation marks, so there should be another round of editing. Given the lackluster editing and the overwhelming storytelling, I rate The life of an idiot 2 out of 4 stars. It’s a fascinating story that could please readers interested in character-driven narratives with a psychological focus. That said, the novel still needs more polish before I can recommend it to most people.
There are quite a few profanities, instances of drug consumption, and minor sex scenes, so the book isn’t suitable for young audiences. Christian readers should bear in mind that George has many unorthodox views and openly questions Church dogma; it’s better to avoid the novel if you have a problem with that.
The life of an idiot
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