Cockroach, by Rawi Hage. I really wanted to give this book a chance, I really did.
On this surface, this book is about a guy transplanted from a war-torn country into a cold Montreal winter, trying to survive on the margins of society. I can see how that kind of perspective might be one that would broaden people’s horizons in a way that may “change Canada”, living up to this year’s theme. The only problem is this guy is a shallow hypocritical idiot in a book that has zero story arc or character growth of any kind.
This was especially apparent having just finished John Green’s Paper Towns, which is all about learning how to see people for more than their outward appearance, and as whole people beyond just what you know about them.
The main character spends all his time judging people on completely superficial things, inventing entire fake lives in his mind based on how clean their dessert fork is, and criticizing them for it. At one point he breaks into his therapist’s house to poke around and make all kinds of assumptions who she is as a person, insists on calling her “doctor” despite repeated requests to call her by her given name, and then complains to her that nobody understands him! It’s infuriating!
Now, if this were all intentional as a way of showing how not to treat other people, as a kind of foil to Paper Towns, that might be fine. But aside from his blatant hypocrisy, there’s no evidence in the book that that’s actually the case. It’s never really a driving force for anything that happens. There’s no growth of his character or anybody else’s for that matter, for better or worse. They’re all just terrible people going about their business.
I had great hopes that by the end there would be some revelations about what was actually going on in his mind, what was actually motivating him, or what actually led him to be the complete shit that he is. But there was none of that. At the risk of giving spoilers, in the last chapter the therapist story line is completely dropped without any reason or consequence other than she’s no longer needed to extract back story for us, and the plot takes this weird diversion into something the reader has no reason for having an interest in this late in the game, and then ends with no resolution at all. Not a good kind of “oh my god what happens” abrupt ending, but a “oh I guess that’s all?” kind of ending.
I think this is a pretty safe #5 ranking so far.