With nine days left in 2016 (thank God), I managed to finish my 2016 TBR Pile Challenge.
I really didn’t think it was going to happen, especially back when I still had two mammoth books to get through: 11/22/63 (at 1080 pages) and I Am Pilgrim (785).
But last month I managed to get through 11/22/63 with a nudge from Buried in Print. And now I’ve managed to finish Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim.
Sadly, not with the same result. I loved 11/22/63. I Am Pilgrim started strong for me but soon became incredibly problematic.
I’m warning you now: this is not going to be an upbeat Christmas time joy post.
A woman is found in a New York City hotel room with her throat slashed. Her teeth have been removed, her remains left in acid and the room sprayed down with hospital grade antiseptic, guaranteeing that no trace will be left behind. This discovery sets our narrator on a path to finding a man who doesn’t want to be found, who is also bent on the destruction of the Western world.
I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist.
What I Liked
The assassin promised to be a woman who, in the beginning, sounded pretty badass. I was set for an equal battle of wits across the world.
What I Didn’t Like
Let’s begin with the treatment of women in the novel. Every. Single. Female. character in this book is beautiful. Sometimes she’s “achingly beautiful”, “exotic”, has incredible legs, a great ass or “her boobs were straining against a tight blouse.” Even the one woman who might be his intellectual equal, a harassed Turkish police officer, turns out to be incredibly gorgeous when he sees her without her hijab on.
UGH. It’s as though Hayes is trying to show us that he thinks all women are incredible but it comes across as condescending and patronizing. When you don’t have any female characters in main roles, when they are relegated to the status of pawns or things you want to have sex with, you’re missing the point.
Our main character is also vaguely racist? He makes a lot of offhand comments that are meant to show himself as superior, that he sees everyone as equal but again…missing it. When he’s talking about Saudi Arabian intelligence officers, who he is counting on to help him, he reminds readers that his colleague had referred to them all as “garbage wrapped in skin”, when he describes a horrific technique he’s using against a target he tells us it’s not his idea, that the Japanese came up with it and of course for them, “it was sport”, like the Japanese are just naturally cruel.
This goes hand in hand with the fact that the story’s villain is (surprise!) a Muslim man intent on destroying the West. It might have felt less racist if our narrator wasn’t the one telling the Saracen’s story (Saracen is what he calls him).
OH. There’s a little boy who has Down syndrome in the story. One character says about him “he IS Down syndrome?” (my emphasis). NO. NOOOOOO. That’s NOT HOW YOU SAY THAT.
There’s a lot of other stuff about this book that I had a hard time with (how he ends up being super conveniently independently wealthy, how the white man saves the world again, how we’re subjected to memories that have no bearing on the story but I guess were meant to try and make him seem to have depth, or how we’re always TOLD exactly how people are feeling rather than shown, just to name a couple more) but mostly, reading this book right now, it feels irresponsible.
Part of the problem in educating yourself on certain things is that you can’t enjoy things the way you used to. Two years ago, I’m not sure that this book would have irritated me like it has done now. But now, on top of the state of the world, this book will solidify a lot of dangerous stereotypes that people already hold.
Usually, if I read a book and it’s not for me, I don’t go out of my way to prevent other people from reading it. I usually say that it wasn’t for me, but that there are still things about it that were solid.
If people ask me about I Am Pilgrim, I’m going to recommend they just not.