Free ↠ The Idiot By Elif Batuman – Thomashillier.co.uk

The Idiot A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Woman A Novel About Not Just Discovering But Inventing OneselfThe Year Is , And Email Is New Selin, The Daughter Of Turkish Immigrants, Arrives For Her Freshman Year At Harvard She Signs Up For Classes In Subjects She Has Never Heard Of, Befriends Her Charismatic And Worldly Serbian Classmate, Svetlana, And, Almost By Accident, Begins Corresponding With Ivan, An Older Mathematics Student From Hungary Selin May Have Barely Spoken To Ivan, But With Each Email They Exchange, The Act Of Writing Seems To Take On New And Increasingly Mysterious MeaningsAt The End Of The School Year, Ivan Goes To Budapest For The Summer, And Selin Heads To The Hungarian Countryside, To Teach English In A Program Run By One Of Ivan S Friends On The Way, She Spends Two Weeks Visiting Paris With Svetlana Selin S Summer In Europe Does Not Resonate With Anything She Has Previously Heard About The Typical Experiences Of American College Students, Or Indeed Of Any Other Kinds Of People For Selin, This Is A Journey Further Inside Herself A Coming To Grips With The Ineffable And Exhilarating Confusion Of First Love, And With The Growing Consciousness That She Is Doomed To Become A Writer


10 thoughts on “The Idiot

  1. says:

    This was an interesting novel, dense, unique, written from a very specific point of view One of those books where I marvel that it was published and am grateful it was published because, I mean, who wants to read the same type of book over and over As someone who went to college in the 90s, not far from where much of this novel takes place, I felt an unexpected amount of nostalgia for that first year of college where you know nothing but think you know everything and are surrounded by people w This was an interesting novel, dense, unique, written from a very specific point of view One of those books where I marvel that it was published and am grateful it was published because, I mean, who wants to read the same type of book over and over As someone who went to college in the 90s, not far from where much of this novel takes place, I felt an unexpected amount of nostalgia for that first year of college where you know nothing but think you know everything and are surrounded by people who know nothing but also think they know everything This novel is incredibly ambitious There are levels to this shit The Idiot is easy to read and really difficult to read Several times, I thought, I am not smart enough to understand everything that is happening here, but I kept reading So much of the intellectual meandering drove me crazy BUT I couldn t stop reading This is also an incredibly witty, funny novel So much sly sly humor and cleverness Man, this is a writer just showing off just how well she can write I mean look A student asking a question was sitting in an amazing posture legs crossed at both the knee and the ankle, arms intertwined, elbows on the desk, fingers knit together, like his whole organic being aspired to be a French cruller I was absolutely delighted by the delightful moments here, and the impeccable delivery of those moments Selin is the kind of narrator that could drive a person mad I kept wanting her to just get out of her own way but that she didn t or, perhaps, couldn t, could well be the point How many of us were our own worst enemies at nineteen And Ivan is trash Utter trash And the way he was written, to show how terrible and irresistible he was, well, just bravo The ending is perfect Oh what last lines This is one of those novels that is just utterly brilliant and not in an overt, gratuitous way Instead, theI sit with this book, theit opens itself up to me, revealing the why of it Like I said, there are levels to this shit


  2. says:

    2.5 5 Stars.I had a really complicated relationship with this book On the surface, it appears to have everything I enjoy in a novel a quirky protagonist, smart insights, dry humor, a character driven narrative but if I m being honest, it was completely tedious and desperate for someextensive editing.It s a Bildungsroman story about a Turkish American girl named Selin who begins her freshman year at Harvard University Selin is awkward, insecure and unprepared for this next part of her lif 2.5 5 Stars.I had a really complicated relationship with this book On the surface, it appears to have everything I enjoy in a novel a quirky protagonist, smart insights, dry humor, a character driven narrative but if I m being honest, it was completely tedious and desperate for someextensive editing.It s a Bildungsroman story about a Turkish American girl named Selin who begins her freshman year at Harvard University Selin is awkward, insecure and unprepared for this next part of her life She meets Ivan, an older Hungarian mathematics major, in one of her classes, and they begin something of a courtship that culminates in her traveling to Hungary that summer to be near him.It s basically a right of passage for a college age girl to go through that phase where she falls in love with an intellectually exciting but emotionally inept asshole And Batuman does a really good job of capturing this to the point of nearly painful nostalgic discomfort for readers like myself who have been through that the coy back and forth, the anxiety of waiting for that next email, the inevitable disappointment just around the corner.Selin is a linguistics major, and so language and communication play a big role in both her internal monologue and her relationship with Ivan Ivan, and the feelings she has for him, are so obscure and perplexing to her that there s a constant sense of disconnect Again, this is something that felt familiar to me and reminded me of my own college years.Batuman writes in sharp, incisive prose, and there is clearly a lot of potential in her writing But I m not sure how to adequately convey how boring and tedious parts of this book were We go through every single step of Selin s first year of college and the summer following it, and much of the narrative and dialogue feels completely unnecessary I skimmed pages and pages of this book because I cared so little about what was happening I almost bailed on it several times And then the sky would open and I d come across a section that I loved It was a very uneven and frustrating reading experience.I would have given this a solid 2 stars, but it gets an extra.5 for Batuman s obvious talent


  3. says:

    With the abrupt sadness of The Idiot s final sentence, I felt a near physical wrench, as if forcibly separated from someone who had swiftly become a good friend I probably read the second half of the book too quickly I loved it so much, and wish I d takentime to savour it but once I d started, I just couldn t stop.The eponymous idiot is 18 year old Harvard freshman Selin though with all the Russian influences popping up throughout the story, the title is clearly intended to evoke Dos With the abrupt sadness of The Idiot s final sentence, I felt a near physical wrench, as if forcibly separated from someone who had swiftly become a good friend I probably read the second half of the book too quickly I loved it so much, and wish I d takentime to savour it but once I d started, I just couldn t stop.The eponymous idiot is 18 year old Harvard freshman Selin though with all the Russian influences popping up throughout the story, the title is clearly intended to evoke Dostoyevsky s masterpiece Especially as both centre on a figure of extreme naivety, unprepared for real life It goes without saying that Selin is far from idiotic, but any high school overachiever will recognise the disorientation of being plunged into a university environment and finding your remarkable talents are no longer remarkable, your outstanding intellect is just the norm, and whatever previously made you special now seems childish and insignificant Of Turkish descent, Selin is surrounded by a truly multicultural, multilingual and multitalented cast of supporting characters, all of whom she thinks are better equipped to handle the strange vagaries of adult life and relationships than she is Repeatedly, Selin experiences a revelation I remember well from that time of my life, and still sometimes get a sense of even now it seems everyone else has, at some point, mysteriously learned codes of behaviour that remain obscure to her, and which she s unable to internalise just by observing Selin never really knows what she s doing Many of her decisions, such as the choice to start learning Russian, and later to teach ESL, are made almost randomly, when she has little idea which path to take She does know, instinctively, that she is a writer, but feels doomed, rather than destined, to this fate She carries the weight of personal note taking and emailing as though it s a compulsory task, and dissects her thoughts and others words like they re homework When a short story of hers wins a prize, she s dismayed I didn t want anyone to think I thought it was good Central to Selin s development throughout the book is her close, tense, peculiar friendship with Ivan, a slightly older student she meets at the aforementioned Russian class She becomes infatuated her decision to spend the summer teaching English in Hungary, his home country, is a result of that.I spent the entire book hoping Selin and Ivan wouldn t get together, hoping Batuman would resist the allure of making good on the will they won t they tension that pervades their interaction And then I came to the end and found that all along, I had wanted them to be together after all Their relationship well, Selin s side of their relationship reminded me of a quote, attributed to Kurt Cobain, I m always seeing superimposed across photographs on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr thank you for the tragedy I need it for my art The sense that at this age, a part of you craves the suffering and drama of rejection, because it fits who you feel you are, and because it s easier If you re an introverted, arty teenager, an outsider, a virgin, then moping and yearning and writing about it are what you know you wouldn t have a clue what to do with reciprocation Incidentally, with Ivan, Batuman expertly captures the speech patterns of someone who speaks excellent English as a second language he really does have a palpable voice.THIS is a real coming of age story, not all the pulpy crap that gets churned out about 14 year olds having orgies in the woods or whatever Selin is so precisely an 18 19 year old freshman the perfect mix of naive and sarcastic, rebel and conformist, book smart and ignorant I loved her There s also something beautiful, and so refreshing, about love remaining unrequited in a narrative like this I d love to quote lots from this book I feel Selin s words would communicate the charm of the novel far better than I can by talking about it but of course I can t, for now, because I read an advance copy Another really important thing about The Idiot that the above probably doesn t communicate at all I found it hilarious I honestly choked with laughter at some pages a couple of times, I became so hysterical that I had to stop reading for a while to calm down Selin has that dry, witty type of humour that makes the most banal asides into laugh out loud lines, and just the way she describes basically anything, the view from a window, the way people look, their voices oh, man I can t even explain it You definitely have to read it.For me, The Idiot was a perfect cocktail a protagonist in whom I saw myself reflected at every turn of the plot a particular sense of humour subtle subversion of tropes I get sick of encountering in fiction I want to read it again I need to read it again I will buy a physical copy when it s published I will buy copies as gifts for other people, too It s the sort of book I want to recommend, not by shouting about it to anyone who ll listen, but by seeking out those I know will appreciate it and ardently pressing it upon them Supplemental Christian Lorentzen s fantastic interview with Batuman at Vulture Her description of rereading stuff you wrote when you were much younger is bang on When I was younger, the content was embarrassing to me, so I devised a style that was supposed to mitigate it As an adult, the thing I found most embarrassing was the very style that I thought would mitigate the embarrassing content I received an advance review copy of The Idiot from the publisher, Penguin Random House.TinyLetter Twitter Instagram Tumblr


  4. says:

    Sometimes, I finish a book and I don t know how I feel about it.This happens a lot of times, in fact And I have two main strategies for dealing with it In one, I rate it approximately, confidently say review to come, wait four months I m in the midst of a major backlog, okay, I m not anya fan of it than you are In fact I m probably way less of a fan, because it spares you from having to experience my reviews a definitively good thing while it only makes me aware of the fact that I Sometimes, I finish a book and I don t know how I feel about it.This happens a lot of times, in fact And I have two main strategies for dealing with it In one, I rate it approximately, confidently say review to come, wait four months I m in the midst of a major backlog, okay, I m not anya fan of it than you are In fact I m probably way less of a fan, because it spares you from having to experience my reviews a definitively good thing while it only makes me aware of the fact that I have, like, 100 pages of review writing ahead of me And it s the kind where I can t remember the book A true nightmare , then maybe change the rating and post the review.That s the good method Hard as it may be to believe The standards are low The bad method, and the one I employed here, is not even rating it Not even giving it a temporary rating Justleaving it in weird review purgatory.Out of pure laziness and an inability to employ my critical thinking skills.This was a strange book to read, and, true to form, it s a strange book to review.This is one of those slightly radical literary fiction reads with a unique way of looking at the world and a unique style to match that always end up changing my internal monologue for 7 10 business days.The main reason I don t read literary fiction beyond the fact that I spend most of my time reading and trashing YA contemporary is that, whether I like it or not, I basically live inside it while I m reading it and for days after.That s debilitating.For this book, which is sad and intense and basically unsatisfying as a rule, that was nothing short of consistently mildly to severely unpleasant.But I don t think it s a bad book, necessarily I think the writer is very good, and I was fairly consumed by this start to finish Obviously It s justat the end, I was left feeling a bit, well, awful And I couldn t figure out what the point of it was me feeling that way, or the book, or any of it.Not a promising way to feel about a book.Bottom line I still don t know any of the answers to any of these questions, sothree stars well now i m all melancholy.review to come rating also to come it is with great sadness and regret that i must inform youthis book stole the working title of my autobiography


  5. says:

    I was ready to give up on The Idiot at page 100 There was no distinct plot nothing major seemed to be happening except for a girl describing her classes at university But I persisted Thank god for that The Idiot is the story of Selin, a student at Harvard in the mid 90s The mid 90s were strange time to be at university Selin begins her tale with the line, I didn t know what email was until I got to college Batuman is obsessed with liminality, or the state of being in between Selin s w I was ready to give up on The Idiot at page 100 There was no distinct plot nothing major seemed to be happening except for a girl describing her classes at university But I persisted Thank god for that The Idiot is the story of Selin, a student at Harvard in the mid 90s The mid 90s were strange time to be at university Selin begins her tale with the line, I didn t know what email was until I got to college Batuman is obsessed with liminality, or the state of being in between Selin s world is moving from analogue to digital, from books to computers, letters to emails Just as she herself is moving from her teens to adulthood She, like the world around her, is caught in this liminal space and she is just lost.Enter Ivan who is the fucking worst Honestly he s up there with, like, Daniel Quilp in terms of dislikability Selin falls for this actual rag of a man and all we can do is squirm and fidget as she blindly plays along with his fuckboy antics But I don t think about Selin or Ivan when I think about The Idiot What hits me first is Batuman I don t personally know Elif Batuman, but I do know that we would probably get along quite well Roxane Gay described this novel as dense and I think that is perfect Batuman has an incredibly dense prose style, in that she takes her influences and her references and she piles them up onto each other so that each paragraph is like a literary puff pastry Honestly, I have never used my degree in English and Art Historythan when I was reading The Idiot At one point Batuman states that one characters reminds Selin of what Andre Breton s Nadja might look like Another time Selin is reading a paragraph from Madame Bovary and she says it reminds her of Bj rk s video for Human Behaviour The Unabomber is in there too It s reference after reference after reference Batuman knows her shit And she knows a lot of it There s probably a hundred other smart asides and sly comparisons that completely went over my head, thus is the nature of her prose It s a novel that rewards the reader based on their own cultural knowledge It s like watching an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or 30 Rock, two shows that rely on the viewer s grasp on popular culture Yeah, you re not gonna get all the references and the gags, but the ones you do catch will make you howl.From wanting to end it all on page 100 to eventually hoping the novel wouldn t finish, my own critical turnaround on The Idiot honestly gave me whiplash It s a novel that I feel would stand up to multiple readings and each time gleaning something new from it Or maybe I would read it again and focuson all the fantastic secondary characters The Idiot is a superb novel about a woman who is just lost I mean, she is an idiot But oh what a wonderful idiot


  6. says:

    NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS IT S LIKE KNAUSG RD BUT WITH HUNGARIANS.


  7. says:

    I really hate when books with titles like The Idiot make me feel like I m the person the title is referring to This book is either really smart or faux smart, and I don t feel smart enough to figure out which of the two it is though I m kind of leaning towards faux smart to make myself feel better Side note Faux Smart would be an amazing band name Maybe one word, like Fauxsmart I expect to be credited in the future debut Fauxsmart album I get the sense that this was written in the tra I really hate when books with titles like The Idiot make me feel like I m the person the title is referring to This book is either really smart or faux smart, and I don t feel smart enough to figure out which of the two it is though I m kind of leaning towards faux smart to make myself feel better Side note Faux Smart would be an amazing band name Maybe one word, like Fauxsmart I expect to be credited in the future debut Fauxsmart album I get the sense that this was written in the tradition of some classic author I ve never read Influenced by some Russian literature, is my guess And in a way, I feel left out of the joke, like I just didn t get it I wondered if this was supposed to be a sort of modern retelling of Dostoyevsky s The Idiot, but I haven t read that, and the Wikipedia entry on the novel is about as long as Batuman s The Idiot , so I ll remain in the dark My joke here is that Batuman s The Idiot is too long Because it is.Batuman is genuinely funny, though, and there are some particularly poignant thoughts and ideas to be found in this book I m not sure who to recommend this to Harvard grads People who like to make fun of academia People who don t like to make fun of academia Linguists I m none of these things, and so ultimately The Idiot just isn t for me This has a lot of elements that will appeal to other readers girl falls in love, girl travels the world, girl is confused about who she is and what she does, girl meets interesting people in interesting places, etc but none of this really meant anything to me This reminds me a bit of Rebecca Harrington s Penelope another Harvard story about awkward teenagers who have difficulty communicating but Batuman s The Idiot is theintellectual of the two Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the e galley.


  8. says:

    I suppose it s appropriate that one of the recurring themes in Elif Batuman s The Idiot is the sensation of being trapped in conversation, in a situation, in a location Because about two thirds of the way through this frustrating and tedious novel, I realized I too was trapped too curious to simply jettison the story, all too aware that the plot was heading into everstagnant territory In the end, I couldn t help but feel that the title, although ostensibly a reference to the Dostoyev I suppose it s appropriate that one of the recurring themes in Elif Batuman s The Idiot is the sensation of being trapped in conversation, in a situation, in a location Because about two thirds of the way through this frustrating and tedious novel, I realized I too was trapped too curious to simply jettison the story, all too aware that the plot was heading into everstagnant territory In the end, I couldn t help but feel that the title, although ostensibly a reference to the Dostoyevsky classic, was actually referring to me.It wasn t all bad The first third of the book was actually pretty great, whether because of my own nostalgia for my freshman year of college or maybe my nostalgia for Rory Gil s freshman year of college or because Batuman successfully blended a dry wit with a quirky character to create what appeared to be a winning tale of a girl coming of age and falling in love Instead, Selin s relationship with Ivan grows, she becomes duller and so does the story To be honest, the conceit is somewhat realistic Selin has a male friend who is muchinteresting andsuited for her, but she can t help obsessing over the self absorbed and off putting older guy, eventually traveling to Hungary to teach English so she can see him on the weekends But once the story left Harvard, all traces of what made me get invested in it disappeared, and I was left slogging through a swamp of mundane details and dull conversations, each step forward making me wish I had closed the book when I had the chance By the end, I had progressed to actively hating everyone in the book yet I was still forcing myself to get to the end the idiot, indeed


  9. says:

    Facebook BoundI knew I should have kept a diary after I left secondary school Not that I had experienced anything extraordinary in my young adulthood, but it could have proved useful for writerly gaps in later life On the other hand if my diary was as tedious and banal as Batuman s, I would have destroyed it as an embarrassing mistake.To say that The Idiot is pointless might sound severe Batuman writes grammatical sentences and believable dialogue But the sentences and dialogue drone on endl Facebook BoundI knew I should have kept a diary after I left secondary school Not that I had experienced anything extraordinary in my young adulthood, but it could have proved useful for writerly gaps in later life On the other hand if my diary was as tedious and banal as Batuman s, I would have destroyed it as an embarrassing mistake.To say that The Idiot is pointless might sound severe Batuman writes grammatical sentences and believable dialogue But the sentences and dialogue drone on endlessly about whatever happened to be around in her young adult life I suppose that someone of a similar age, perhaps embarking on an educational adventure like Harvard and experiencing Paris for the first time, would find The Idiot instructive and even interesting For anyone else the autobiographical detail is likely to be as enthralling as a 19th century cookbook.It did just strike me however Perhaps Batuman isimportant than I realize Forget the old fashioned idea of the diary What s she s done is to take a few years worth of anticipatory Facebook or Instagram posts and turned them into a book So perhaps welcome to a new genre Please don t let it be


  10. says:

    3.5 This is such an odd debut novel that, though I ultimately thought it a very funny anti Bildungsroman, I d hesitate to recommend it too widely Nostalgia for pre technology college days, some familiarity with Eastern European literature especially the absurdist tradition , and a fascination with linguistic theory and foreign languages would be good prerequisites for enjoying this but then again, none of those criteria are quite valid for me.In brief, this is Selin s account of her freshm 3.5 This is such an odd debut novel that, though I ultimately thought it a very funny anti Bildungsroman, I d hesitate to recommend it too widely Nostalgia for pre technology college days, some familiarity with Eastern European literature especially the absurdist tradition , and a fascination with linguistic theory and foreign languages would be good prerequisites for enjoying this but then again, none of those criteria are quite valid for me.In brief, this is Selin s account of her freshman year at Harvard c 1995 and the summer of travel in Paris, Hungary and Turkey that follows A daughter of Turkish immigrants, she wants to become a writer, but even as she minutely records every happening and thought of her year she doubts the point Is she learning anything from her experiences In her Russian and linguistics classes, in her interactions with her roommates and her Serbian friend Svetlana, and in her growing obsession with Ivan, a senior math major from Hungary, she includes a surprisingly Knausgaardian amount of mundane detail yet always remains at an emotional distance from events.The tone is so very deadpan that you may never warm to Selin However, it feels appropriate for what the novel is attempting a commentary on the difficulty of having real, meaningful conversations when language breakdown is rife Again and again Selin fails to connect with others, whether it s because her Spanish speaking ESL tutee simply can t put together an English sentence or because she and Ivan keep mishearing each other With so little faith in the power of individual words, how can she possibly hold out hope for a coherent narrative for her entire life It s important to remember, of course, that this takes place in the early days of e mail and long before smartphones, which I think makes it evenpotent by extension to today we think we reconnected than ever, but does our technology really make it anylikely that we re engaging in significant discussions and relationships Once again Batuman has borrowed a Dostoevsky title her 2010 memoir, about reading the Russian masters, was called The Possessed , and I suspect her novel is in heavy debt to Russian fiction in general I m not familiar enough with Eastern European literature to make sweeping statements, but something about the randomness of the novel s events and the way they are bluntly recounted rather than explained made me think of Kafka This can be problematic for the story line, though it feels like things keep happening that serve no purpose in the grand scheme of the novel.That s why I call this an anti Bildungsroman Batuman is subverting the whole idea of a simple coming of age trajectory At the same time, she does convincingly capture what it s like to be young and confused about what you should be doing I couldn t imagine how I was going to dispose of my body in space and time, every minute of every day, for the rest of my life Just being alive felt like some incredibly long card game where you didn t know if the point was to get cards or lose them, or what you had to do to get cards or lose them This reminded me of elements of my college years and study abroad experience the familiarity plus the off the wall humor kept me reading with interest, even though this is a very long novel and not traditionally satisfying in terms of plot.Sample lines What was Cinderella, if not an allegory for the fundamental unhappiness of shoe shopping One afternoon in the library, I picked up Pablo Neruda s Ode to an Atom and started to read There were words I didn t know, but I didn t slow down I just guessed the meaning, or a meaning, and kept going, and I saw then that Ivan was right it was exciting not to understand What you did understand was exciting On a plane I opened the foil lid and looked at the American meal I couldn t tell what it was The man in the seat ahead of me started tossing and turning His pillow fell into my dessert The pink whipped foam formed meaningful looking patterns on the white fabric I saw a bird that meant travel At first it seemed strange to me to go into a supply closet every day with a fourteen year old boy and eat a three course meal, but soon I came to view it as part of the natural course of things We sat at the table Margit and Mrs Nagy chatted in Hungarian, Zolt n, whose pallor, small head, and straight black hair made him resemble an Edward Gorey drawing, stared at the floor I mechanically ate the pretzel sticks Margit had set out, like it was a job someone had given me Spiderwebs attached themselves, like long trails of agglutinative suffixes, onto our arms and faces