By Olga Tokarczuk
416 pp. Riverhead Books. $17.
If there’s a book I’m particularly excited to read, I tend to move slowly. It’ll sit on the shelf for a while. I’ll steal glances at it, thinking about the inevitable pleasure that’ll come when I do pick it up, but that won’t be anytime soon.
A desire to delay gratification seems to be a trait I inherited. Even as a child, if I was eating a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, say, I would always eat the wheaty bits first. And who likes those? No child, certainly.
Some cereal promoter at General Mills must have thought the addition of bland, wheaty bits would convince parents that there was actually some nutritional content there, that they weren’t just giving their child a bowlful of sugary, toxic-colored marshmallows — there’s some wheat in there too!
So I would suffer through, in order to have all the marshmallows, floating in milk the color of kermit-colored puke, to gobble up alone at the end.
Once I finally do pick up the book, I read slowly, doing my best to absorb every single word. I read the first five pages of this three times, just because someone would say something or I would get distracted and would want to go back to try and once again capture the mood I was.
There’s a map on page five tracing the length of the world’s rivers in relation to something the author is writing about her childhood. The book is much like a river too, meandering from thought to thought, but it’s unfortunately far from the idyllic ride I’d been hoping for.
But how could this not be good? I was so certain it would be. It was a given!
It’s called “Flights,” which seems to suggest something to do with travel. It won the International Man Booker and has been acclaimed from all corners, including by a number of friends.
But it is instead a boring, completely disorganized novel that stretches on far longer than any other pleasure cruise ought to.
Biographical essays featuring the girlhood version of the author or an experience at an airport (hence the title, perhaps?) are interspersed with long, dreary bits of fiction. I don’t understand why the book is ordered this way. Essay, essay, boring story, essay, another boring story, essay, essay, the second part of the first boring story, just as boring.
For some reason I kept with it, even when I knew this relationship wasn’t going to work out. Maybe, just maybe, at some point it’d get good, there’d be a spark, something to save it, save us. But it never came.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so disappointed by a book, by an author who’d received so much hype, by friends and critics.
I very much wish that I’d missed this flight.