Review: Andrew Miller’s “The Optomists”

by writereaderly

When I grabbed this from Pile No.2 (KT’s Housesat Books), I must have been seduced by the pretty glory of the cover, ‘cos when I reread the blurb, I found I’d entirely forgotten that this was a post-massacre novel. Not exactly the mood I was in, but he’d been shortlisted for the Booker for another book, and I trust the aggregate quality of the prize if not the individual winners (Anne Enright, anyone?).

So, post-massacre recovery novel in 1993 London. Simply written, absorbing, tactfully addressing complex issues of international politics and mental health, a somewhat weird ending that comes out of the blue – nothing like a Messiah complex to get you through a time of trial.

What most powerful impressed me about this novel was how lucky I was to not be in the hero’s situation, that I’d never — not in the worst situations I lived when working in human rights — ever, remotely come close to experiencing anything as horrific as a church of dismembered bodies and unfilled graves. I’m so lucky not to live in war, I’m so lucky my sensitive soul has not had to recover from such demands, I’m so lucky I have the choice to not be in situations that grim and that lethal. This was the feeling that accompanied me through the first 60 or 100 pages, but then, as with all wise sensations, faded, and I was left following Clem’s incremental approach to blankness and newness.

Recommended, and I’ll read others of Miller’s as I come across them.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat bookshelf
Time taken to read: two nights in bed, then early morning after an overnight in town
Where it went to: Back home on the shelf
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Perhaps other post-human rights workers. It deals well with the complex and the equivocal that is the legacy of the field.
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Cloudspotter’s Guide” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney; “Dear You: A Novel” by Kate Llewellyn; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain