Book Review: The Sound of One Hand Clapping, by Richard Flanagan




There was birth and there was love and there was death, and there were only these three stories in life and no others, but there was also this noise, this endless noise that confused people, making them forget that there was only birth and love and that each and everything died.


Flitting between three different points in time, 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping' tries to examine the cause-effect relationship between peoples past, their present and their future. Flanagan does an immensely beautiful job of describing the early industrial days of Hobart and it's surrounding emerging migrant settlements shortly after World War 2, creating a picture of a world that, unpleasant though it might sound on paper, really did exist.


Sonja Buloh has spent most her life running from her past and refusing to admit it. Bojan Buloh, her father, is stuck in a much darker place and unable to escape. Coming to terms with the hand they have both been dealt in life is no easy battle for these characters, and there are some elements and chapters in this book that are written perfectly - engaging and moving.


But amongst those elements is a constant barrage of abuse. Flanagan has a temptation to use language that is excessive, exaggerated and over-bearing. He uses language designed to cause excitement and to offend, metaphorically slapping his readers in the face with some of the books revelations, which I found unnecessary and distracting. The intention-ed 'hard-hitting' reveal of some of the story didn't fit the more subtle writing, which I felt delivered more meaning, and aided the sensitive topics of the book that helped me, the reader, feel more connected to the characters plights.


Flanagan delves deeply into Sonja and Bojan's psyche, offering the reader in-depth insights into their behaviour and ways of being, and he delivers well on explaining the psychology behind some of the outcomes of the story. I wish the same could have been offered for Maria Bojan, the mother, who is given little attention - apart from when required as a shock factor to keep the book moving along. When her fate is finally revealed (much too late in the book and with little heart) I struggled to find any emotional connection to her and her plight.


A path to redemption is at the heart of this book - can we really make up for our history of wrong-doing? Can our family truly see us for what we are, not what we might have allowed ourselves to become? In my mind, redemption for Sonja and Bojan comes too late, with little care, and much too predictably.


I generally weigh up the measure of a good book by how much I want to rush out and devour any other writing by the author. If we use this scale to judge this book, while I might not say no outright to an offer of his other works, I can probably guarantee it'll collect some dust before I move myself to read it.


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Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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