Thursday, November 17, 2011

Zuleika Dobson

Title: Zuleika Dobson
Author: Max Beerbohm
List: #59 on Modern Library Board’s Top 100 20th Century Novels
Worth reading? Not really.

The full title of this novel is Zuleika Dobson, or, an Oxford love story. Except that it’s not. Or rather, it is one of the oddest and most demented love stories I have ever come across. The premise, which becomes rapidly evident so that I do not feel bad about revealing it, is that Zuleika Dobson is a woman with whom men fall in love on sight, to the point of killing themselves for her. And Zuleika is vain and egocentric enough to want people to die for her and to encourage them to die for her.

In this weird twist on reality, a proud and emotionally detached young Duke concludes that the only way to make Zuleika love him, or perhaps more accurately, to make her appreciate his love for her, is to commit suicide. He comes to this conclusion after Zuleika, who briefly loved him because he appeared to be immune to her charms, rejects him after realizing that he has fallen in love with her just like everyone else. Unfortunately, this all takes place in Oxford, a town full of young men—young men who are easily influenced by both Zuleika’s magnetism and the Duke’s resolve. And from that brief description, I am sure you can guess the inevitable conclusion to which this novel steadily progresses.

Now, an awful story is not necessarily enough to make me condemn a book. And, to be honest, when I finished reading this novel, I felt speechless, not knowing whether to encourage or discourage future readers. The writing is excellent. The author has a humorous tone throughout and a calm defeatist attitude towards the inevitable end. He switches perspective effectively, at times revealing the thoughts and actions of the Duke and Zuleika, at times describing the behavior of ghosts and the thoughts of statues, and at other times almost engaging in a conversation with the reader. However, for all that, I don’t think I can recommend it. As I’ve said before, there are so many other books out there that are better able to challenge, move, and inspire me that when I come across a book like this one, I can pretty comfortably recommend that you give it a pass.

1 comment:

  1. Even though your recommendation is "Not worth it," I still really want to read this book, if only to see how the author writes about the thoughts of ghosts and statues. And since I know you read this book online, I know it can't be that long, and therefore not such a waste of time as to replace reading a real book on your list. Good post!