Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Doctor

Book Doctor by Esther Cohen

Arlette Rosen is the titular character of Book Doctor. As a book doctor, she is part psychologist and part editor, helping her clients put their ideas onto the page and reigning in unruly manuscripts. On the subject of fees, Arlette is quite philosophical:
My fees, first of all, are yours. I receive what you get per hour. [...] I am providing a service that is hard to evaluate financially [...] What is a novel worth? One dollar? One million dollars? Somewhere in between? What is it worth to you to write your novel? Fifty dollars? Three thousand? I'm afraid the way I resolve this question for myself and for my clients is to suggest that my work is equivalent in value to theirs. (28-29)
Peppered with often-eccentric inquiry letters from potential clients, Book Doctor chronicles Arlette's relationship with an unexpectedly enigmatic literary novitiate and how it changes her work and her life.

The novel's secondary protagonist is Harbinger Singh, a tax lawyer wants to write a book to compensate for the demise of his marriage. To his first meeting with Arlette, Harbinger wears a seasonably inappropriate wool suit (because he likes the color and how it plays off the color of his skin). While his occupation, choice of attire, and naïveté about how "simple" writing a book are strikes against him, the more time Arlette spends with Harbinger the more she sees his hidden depths and the more his unconventional modi operandi begin to effect her.

I like Book Doctor for the concept behind it and the author's writing, rather than for the story it tells. I didn't find the story particularly compelling nor the characters particularly sympathetic (to me, they were curious rather than relatable). I did, however, appreciate the composition and found myself making note of quotes that struck me forcefully. I shared one is in an earlier post. Here are a couple of others:
There was a time a while ago when I wrote letters all the time. [...] I stopped writing letters for a few reasons, I guess. I stopped being sure of what I wanted to say. Once I didn't have the easy material that being away provided, I really felt at a loss. (91-92)
I love to read. Love the endless stories. I like the hopefulness in stories, the romance and wariness and all the narrative past. What we remember, and how those memories become who we are. [...] 'There is no human being who does not carry a treasure in his soul; a moment of insight, a memory of love, a dream of excellence, a call to worship.' For me, that's what writing really is. Any writing. (62-63)
On a side note, while reading Book Doctor I found myself wondering whether (and to what extent) it might be autobiographical.

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