Fusing a view of the idle rich that makes Jay Gatsby look sympathetic with an attack on political correctness that offers only futile bumbling as a response, Kierkegaard provides what one desperately hopes is not social realism.
Orlando Plummer is employed as a professor of literature at an obsessively liberal US college, but works at being a drunkard and adulterer, and gets his real income from Valeria, his wealthy dilettante wife. When Valeria decides to cope with both his affairs and her boredom by taking him husband-swapping, Orlando finds himself lurching ever deeper into polyamory.
As with other works by Kierkegaard, the prose is tight and the language pleasing.
However, this novel is written in the style of the autobiography of a comparative literature critic who has lost faith in liberal education. Filled with cutting parodies of political correctness and left-wing intellectuals, it suffers the issue that all post-modern commentaries risk: while it tears down the hollow façade of its target, it suggests no better alternatives. Readers might, therefore, be left with the sense that this is destruction for it’s own sake rather than a clearing away of pretence.
Orlando is also overly focused on his own cleverness; not – unfortunately – his cleverness compared to the other characters, but his supposed ability to tailor the narrative to gull the reader. An ability that proves less great than his statements allege, particularly in the case of a big reveal part way through the book that is in actuality so obvious that readers were likely to have been more surprised were it not true. Although this might be a deliberate technique by Kierkegaard to display Orlando’s character, the continued revealing of new information about events that the narrator knew at the time they were first described moves beyond a dislike for Orlando into a distrust of the author’s descriptions.
In addition to this smugness, Orlando has a tendency to wallow in his own pity. Rather than commit to improving his situation, he collapses back (sometimes literally) then whines when others fail to support him or even take advantage. Even those times where he is genuinely the wronged party do not raise sympathy, sandwiched as they are between repeated incidents of tediously petty selfishness, indolence, and casual disrespect for others.
Kierkegaard’s characterisation is equally skilled, and equally lacking in sympathetic qualities, when it comes to the supporting cast. Apart from a few bit parts who pass through a single scene with few ripples, narcissists, drunkards, and petty abusers of all varieties vie to be the most obviously superficial and selfish.
As such, while this novel is – as the blurb suggests – a comic romance, it might best be considered so because it is not a tragedy that the protagonist ends up with one of the other characters rather than – for example – someone the reader might care about.
Lacking a character to properly root for, readers are likely to find much of the satire too bitter to amuse.
Overall, I found this novel technically skilled but lacking in characters that I cared about. I recommend it to readers who enjoy Great American Novels; especially those by Fitzgerald
I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.