It's possible that as a Midwesterner of somewhat Scandinavian extraction, I have an overly developed sensitivity to the language of self deprecation. I consider myself enthusiastic amateur in the practice of self-effacement; my Grandma Dory can both insult and vanish into false timidity in the same simple sentence. She is also the most accomplished liar of my acquaintance, as her lies are the truth. She would never let facts get in the way of a good story, and she would never let a good story get in the way of the way things ought to have been. The lies build a family mythology. I've seen one of my uncles correct her on numerous occasions - he's the only one who bothers to try anymore, because the rest of us have given up - and she agrees, and makes this odd sound that means something like wonder and something like agreement. (I have developed a pretty good impression of this noise, and gladly reenact at family functions.) The next time the story is told, all the details have remained unchanged, fixed in their adherence to greater truths than reality.
So, to my ear, bent as it was at an early age by the whispers of masters, the protagonist in Bridge of Sighs
practices the worst kind of self-deprecation: the self-aggrandizing kind. I mean, let's face it, self-effacement is often a form of bragging, although a subtle one. Oh my, thank you for the compliment, but any old fool off the street could make a blue-raspberry pie this delicious, it just takes practice! (The bit about practice at the end also serves to shame the questioner - thanks Grandma!)
Anyway, I didn't get that far into this book until the shrill, falsely humble declarations of unworthiness by the narrator rankled me to the point where I had to abandon book. Why indeed did she choose you, Protag with the Forgotten Name? Oh, right, you just wanted to let us all know again that she had
chosen you. Well done indeed. I may be committing one of the readerly sins of confusing hatred of the characters with hatred of this book, but I'm not sure I give a shit, and I'm not sure with this one there's a distinction. I have spent my time with all kinds of unlikable, deeply flawed folk in books, people whom if I met them in a dark alley I would try to knee in the balls, or give them a hug, or freeze into immobility in the impossible conflict of love and violence that their characters embody. With this protagonist, I would have the unsettling sensation I needed to renew the license tabs on my car. He was a verbal civil servant.
The worst thing about all this is that this book was given to me by my brilliant friend Liz, who spoke with ringing clarity about how great this book was. It's taken me now roughly 2 months to work up the courage to tell her I hate this book, which I did last night at happy hour. I'm sad; I wish I could like it. When friends are driven to evangelism in their praises of a book, I always want to join in the fun and love. As lonely as the experience of reading can be, novels are often a teasing glimpse into the word-dense forests of the writer's mind. Layer over it the shared experience of readers, individual readers you know and love, and you have something approaching perfection. Alas, not this time.