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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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On Such a Full Sea

On Such a Full Sea - Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea shows a beautiful display of language. Lee illustrates here he can masterfully turn a sentence and write scenes that are enthralling. The writing is top-notch, but it doesn't all come together as one might hope. Largely, I enjoyed the writing more than the novel itself.


The story of Fan and her quest had a sluggish start. Some of this was world building, as the narrator spent considerable time introducing the reader to this culture. The speed picks up eventually and the result is a more engaging story. Nevertheless, I didn't quite connect with the narrator. The story is told in a quasi-biographical tone—at times it's a personal history of Fan's journey, at other times it felt like it was written by a professional novelist with an intimate knowledge of Fan and these events. It didn't quite work. Because of the biographical tone, I never felt strongly for Fan; because of the more speculative writings, I lost faith in our narrator. A different, more defined choice for the narrative would've been welcomed. I think this is a novel that the author might have been wise to consider taking one more pass at prior to publication. Even so, it's good; though maybe not all it could've been.


Nevertheless, I marveled at the world Lee built here, somehow so very much like our own, yet one I wouldn't wish to live in. The three segments of society Lee depicts in the novel all have their own level of depravity. It's one of those novels that helps you envision a world that is out of science-fiction, only to force you to realize that world is a reflection of your own. With its lack of futuristic devices and terminology, the world at the heart of the novel feels more like an alternate time line, or a future that is (though couldn't possibly be given the scope of the back-story) only a few years away. It's never quite clear when these events take place, but there are many things that aren't clear in this novel.


So it's sort of a hit-and-miss. This novel is one that many readers will hope for more out of, or wish it could've been tweaked one way or another, but it will be hard for readers to dismiss the display of talent. It's a stunning portrait; certainly enough to garner Lee some new readers, especially the many who love a good dystopian novel.