Book review (sort of): Silk by Alessandro Baricco

I say, ‘sort of’ because I haven’t really made up my mind about this book yet. The thing is I haven’t finished reading it, and I’m already trying to decide if this is the best book I’ve ever read.
There aren’t that many books I’d review before finishing, but then there aren’t many books I’ve read in which the ending doesn’t really bother me.
Silk is literary fiction; one of those incredibly rare pieces in which the reader is expected to be so engrossed by the beauty of the prose that notions of plot and character fly out the window.

1421486530_full.jpegI’ve read a lot of books that are sold as literary fiction, but I can’t say I’ve come across one in which this holds true. If I’m honest, I’ve abandoned more literary fiction works than genre novels, simply because I get to point where I think ‘Yeah, all very arty, but why am I reading this?’

You need a solid plot; you need fabulous characters. End of.

Well, that’s what I thought until I started Silk, a simple tale of a silkworm merchant set in the 1800s.
Now don’t get me wrong, it does have a plot, though not a particularly strong one (let’s just say that plot wasn’t why this book was written). It also has characters, but they are hard to separate, and some, one could argue, are barely visible. (But then a single sentence will bring them vividly to life – it is just so weird.)
What the book does have is the most concise, rhythmic, flowing prose I have ever read. It’s not so much a book as a 100-page poem, and make no mistake, it’s fantastic. Every sentence is carefully crafted to induce an emotion, and it works without being, well . . . hard work. The author has built a world you can feel in one hundred pages.
That’s quite a knack, and in this regard it does remind me of my favourite poem, An Orange Sleeve, translated by Edward Powys Mathers:

In the fifth month,
When orange-trees
Fill all the world with scent,
I think of the sleeve
Of a girl who loved me.

Even if you don’t like this kind of  writing, you should read Silk if you ever intend to put your finger on a literary keyboard. If nothing else it’s a masterclass in prose. Not once did I think ‘Where’s this going?’
I just didn’t care.

And yes – it is the best book I’ve ever read.

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