Mur Lafferty’s THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY: not a review

Mur Lafferty, The Shambling Guide to New York City. Orbit, New York, 2013. Review copy courtesy of the lovely people at Orbit.

ΤΟΙΣ πᾶσι χρόνος καὶ καιρὸς τῷ παντὶ πράγματι ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν. – ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΣΤΗΣ 3.1

For everything there is a time, and for all things a season under heaven. It’s as true for books as it is for anything else, but I’m not sure that there will ever be a season where I am able to read and enjoy The Shambling Guide to New York City. The large amounts of praise and enthusiasm it has received since its initial publication overrode my initial instinct that this wasn’t a book for me: but in this case, the initial instinct is right.

(At least for now. It may well be that in two or three years’ time, it will become a book for me.)

I have read only the first two chapters and some bits from the middle. And between me and this book there is a vast cultural divide. The main character, Zoe, is pushy and professionally business-aggressive in the way that is stereotypically USian – stereotypically New Yorker – and does not do well at accepting hints or taking no for an answer. The first chapter had me cringing in situational embarrassment while Zoe breezed insistently along, and sections from the middle chapters make me think this is a book about the culture clash of Young Urban Professional meeting the Professional Urban Monster Underworld.

And I’m not – I don’t quite know how to put this. There is something fundamentally alien about the supposedly normal human protagonist of The Shambling Guide to New York City, something foreign to me, that makes it really difficult for me to understand, or relate to her. In the same way I find myself bemused at middlebrow popular American so-called “women’s fiction,” I don’t get this book. Its sense of humour is so utterly aslant to mine, I don’t even see how it is funny.

Which is very frustrating. But at the same time, since I’m not being paid specifically to finish it, and since I prefer to use my Tor.com column to talk about things I actively enjoyed, I’m going to shelve it and hope I like it better – or at least enough to finish – in a couple of years.

Sorry, lovely people.

2 thoughts on “Mur Lafferty’s THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY: not a review

  1. I don’t think this is entirely a US vs. UK difference in worldview. I am from the US, and was also alienated by and cringing at Zoe’s behavior. I trudged through that, and ultimately I found the book kind of enjoyable but not great, and I am also very puzzled at the praise it’s getting.

    And for me the second book retroactively ruined what little pleasure I’d gotten from the first.

  2. Maybe it’s the humour. Humour is very culturally-contingent, and context-specific. (I did not feel as though I was getting the joke at all.)

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