July Book Club Selection: Half-Blood Blues

I’m the kind of jerk that loved Fifty Shades of Grey and was left completely underwhelmed by Half-Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan), a book that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Governor-General’s Award and won the Giller Prize.

What is wrong with me? Has my newfound appetite for semi-literate erotica left me unable to appreciate proper writing? Am I going to start shunning classics for Harlequins?

Either way I’m basically a snob aren’t I? So either way I’m going to look like a jerk. I’m going to have to live with this.

So Half-Blood Blues. It is my book club’s July pick that we will be discussing at a BBQ next weekend. I’m told there could be hot tubbing? We’re a pretty classy book club. Half-Blood Blues tells the story of a jazz band trying to cut a record in Europe in the early years of WWII. It’s told from the perspective of Sidney Griffiths who we get to know as an old man, years after all of this has happened. The story begins when Sid is still in Paris in 1941 and he goes with the “kid”, Hieronymus Falk, to get some milk early one morning, to help with their hangovers. The kid doesn’t have papers, which we all know is bad news. Hieronymus is black, so is Sid. While Sid is in the bathroom at their local bar, a group of Nazis comes in and takes Hieronymus. Sid watches the whole thing happen but is immobilized by fear.

(Which, I totally get. I don’t know how I would ever react in that situation. I’d like to think I’d be the hero and step in to help but I can’t even tell people to take their shoes off when they come to my house, not sure how I would fare going toe-to-toe with Nazis. But the rest!)

The story does take a few unexpected turns and I wanted to enjoy them. But when I got to the ending I was so disappointed. It was so much worse than just Sid watching Hieronymus get taken away. Obviously, the era was a nightmare. And I did appreciate the insight into what it was like for African-Europeans during the Third Reich. It’s not something that I’ve ever read too much about before. But I kept hoping that we would see that there was something good still possible for these men, trying to make it in a most brutal era. That even though there was this cloud of brutality over everything, there was still good left in people. And that never happened. Hieronymus gets taken away because someone else made an incredibly selfish decision.

Not to ruin it completely or anything!

Also, sometimes I felt like I was reading a play and not a particularly great play. Like everything was being clearly outlined, that the subtlety was missing. It’s one of those books that has a very strong narrative voice, but this time it felt stale, not authentic.

God I hate ragging on books. I just didn’t like it. But maybe you will?

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