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What Does Nader Elhefnawy Think of New Model Army?

By Adam Roberts | June 30, 2010
Categories: Reviews

It's a good question; and the answer is here, at Strange Horizons: 'Roberts's depiction of the results is quite well thought out in some respects ... Still, the book has its share of implausibilities.' Some point of praise, balanced by points of dispraise.

Most of what has been said so far is in line with Roberts's previous writing, which is distinguished less by sweeping worldbuilding or flashy prose than the relation of character-centered stories against his speculative backdrops. The unreliable, problematic and sometimes rather unlikable (but believable) narrator; the thematic concern with freedom (especially freedom inside radically different kinds of political community); a touch of the epic in the treatment (despite this particular book's comparative brevity, at 288 widely spaced pages) are all familiar as well. (Indeed, the NMA repeatedly made me think of Gradisil's Uplands in their formative period.)

The same also goes for the awkwardness of the structure, and the periodic self-indulgences. Two-thirds of the way in, the story turns in a sharply different direction, and while what follows caps off and completes the story told thus far, it is still so different in setting, situation, tone, and narration that, despite the set up, there are times when it seems like a different book entirely—indeed, a more ostentatiously "literary" one as the pop cultural references increasingly give way to highbrow allusions, the meditations lengthen, and the sense of the surreal comes to predominate.

Additionally, in this instance, Roberts's effectiveness in painting a portrait of Antony gets in the way of the book's ostensible focus, which is not Antony, but Pantegral. This is not only a question of Antony's limits as an observer, important as these are, but also the implausibilities intrinsic to Pantegral—for all the things that Roberts gets right—and the exploration of the book's central ideas suffers accordingly. Nonetheless, Roberts is skillful enough to make the book proceed as smoothly as can reasonably be hoped for under the circumstances. In fact, his sheer ability to keep the reader turning the pages is fully evident here, and despite the story's flaws, the whole still manages to be well worth the while.

It's an intelligent, thoughtful, well-written review, this; Elhenawy doesn't really like the novel, I think, but he goes out of his way not simply to dismiss it, to try and engage with it on its own terms; and a writer can never say fairer than that. If I have the sense that he doesn't really get the novel, that has certainly more to do with my failure to make the novel get-able than his critical faculties.

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3 Comments to-date;

3 Responses to “What Does Nader Elhefnawy Think of New Model Army?”

  1. veterinary technician Says:
    July 1st, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  2. Nader Elhefnawy Says:
    July 6th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks for the favorable mention of my review.

    As it happened, I did enjoy New Model Army-certainly enough that I didn't feel that I had to go out of my way to avoid dismissal. (I thought that came through in the review, though as you fairly note, there were also things that I had reservations about-which happen to predominate in the selection quoted in your post.)

    I won't presume to argue over whether I "got" NMA. I thought I had, but as it is your book and not mine, it's only fair to leave that judgment to you.

    Incidentally, I enjoyed your review of Lost yesterday.

  3. Mike Roberts Says:
    July 14th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Interesting glance on this subject and I have enjoyed both reviews.