The Geographer’s Library

A bad review of John Fasman’s debut novel

a game: find the book the Geographer's Library (like where's Wally)

Part of my last year’s new year’s resolutions was to read and finish a number of books. I’ve started reading some, reaching up to some chapters then pausing till i forgot that i was reading some. So, to have that resolution checked, together with starting a blog, writing a play, acting in one, be a better father and all, i grabbed this new book my wife bought. It was aptly titled The Geographer’s Library. Well, reading this would have made me read a library, i supposed. But not. For there was no book discussed in the book or what I’ve thought of to be a library.

I am not really into reviewing the things I’ve read, seen, heard or simply sensed. However, this one is review-worthy. It was all-praises for the first and several pages in google, which made me think. Is it this easy to write a noteworthy novel nowadays?

The story was simple. A 23 year old journalist Paul Tomm, a common people, nothing extraordinary in life, or in his past lives or in his future reincarnation, was tasked to write an obituary about the death of Jaan, a solitary professor who turned out to be all that the lead character was not and never will be, interesting. Intertwining with the chapters were short stories involving important items connected to Alchemy that led to deaths of a character in each tale. All of which ended with no relevance to Paul Tomm’s journey.

Readers would easily relate to Paul Tomm. His life was as boring as the dunes, good to look at, but it really has nothing but repetitive wavy lined mountains of sand brought by the wind which at times broken by footsteps of lonely lizards or swirls of shaky snakes which make the dessert far appealing than him. Some articles compared the novel to Dan Brown’s, making Tomm a parallel to Langdon. I couldn’t imagine him as such. He was of no intention or motivation in doing what he did. I would understand if he simply dropped what was tasked of him. Nothing was at stake of him, or of the world, or even of Pluto’s planetary status. First, he did as his job required him to do. Then a mortician died from a clean hit and run, making him far more interested in the case without a clear connection between the mortician’s death and his obit’s subject. His interest was furthered when he was promised to be part of a bigger newspaper, which he actually never dreamed of or cared about to start with. And finally, a tooth on his door threatened him to stop his digging, which made him pushed harder in deciphering the mystery which still was of no value to his existence. i didn’t actually get him.

The love story made the character mundane and easier to get along with. He has an ex girlfriend of long ago, Mia, whom he still thought of and referred to when he was to divulge instances of love, until an older woman Hannah, one of his sources showed innuendos. (Did i use whom right?) They had few moments and that was it. That was the love arc. It was not a great one, but understandable. i was not pegged to be a Nicholas Sparks. Yet i thought it failed me, for i wanted to read more about Mia than Hannah. Some may say that the author was successful in making me side with one character, like in the Jacob-Bella-Edward conundrum, but i don’t think that was an intention.

Some reviews highlighted it as a suspense novel of the year. I would lie if i say that i wasn’t “suspensed” even once in the book. I actually was thrilled. And it was actually just once. Yet that once was a very good once. A few chapters towards the end when a character appeared from a not a few pages ago came face to face Paul Tomm, when Tomm’s life was finally at risk. Maybe it was the journalist in him that made him gathered facts only from interviews and more interviews. Unlike Harry who defied the school rules or a Hardy Boy who slid through the darkness, or a Boleyn Girl who schemed on a king to find and get what they need, Tomm did his interviews. Well, to be fair, he once crept into the dead man’s house. But more than being in the so much latter part of the book, it was not his initiative, but of a curious policeman. The whole time, i was waiting for Mr Tomm to be in a situation so hard, he has to use his wits to get away. And these moments should be felt even minutely the moment he accepted the assignment, not two chapters before the book ended.

And again to be fair, I read and finished the book so there must be something that hooked me. It had a good start. not as a suspense novel but as a start of a novel. It was in the first voice, Paul Tomm, and it felt like he was just talking to me. The way he told me of how he had no idea where to go after one thing, and of his last fuck, and of the little bitterness and melancholy from his first and last relationship was believable. The things he said behind his head were witty, sarcastic and i like them. However, the mystery did not changed him to be a better person, or even to be a bad person, or to be a deciding person at the very least, which made him boring after a while. I was actually scanning through the pages from 150-300.

The artifacts stories in between were a nice read. They were short and sweet. Some were memorable and were deserving of a google search if the characters or place does exist. But after a while, it was not. They became predictable. That there will be this man, who would carry this item, then he will die. Or will be endanger then will die. Or will be happy the hell i care. I was actually torn about the pay off of these stories. I like it because towards the end, as things became predictable, there will always be a man, of a different name, of a different look who demand of different items. i assumed that this different man is the same man, and the same person who broke inside Tomm’s house. That was the thrilling and “suspensing” particular part. However, the items got me so curious that i wanted to see why people were dying or being bribed with their lives’ desires for it. i did not.Well i must applaud the author for that twist, it was very unexpected. Giving nothing as a twist! What a twist?!

Maybe i was not a Paul Tomm, or maybe i was saturated with the Philippine Teleserye that dictated that each character should have  this strong urge or motivation or something at stake for him to move forward. But maybe that was his style or objective. move away from the unrealistic quantum leaping plots and character development. This is a story of a not so curious reporter of a newspaper of no competition. A possibility. Yet Alchemy is fantastic enough to be believable, and making the other things around it as fantastic would make the main subject trivial. The author may have wanted the readers believe in Alchemy as much as they believe in a person like Paul Tomm, who at the end, did not believe at all.

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