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Author: Edgar Allan Poe

A few months ago while eating dinner with friends, I mentioned that one book I had recently read was “deep, but not in a pretentious way”. The guy across from me asked “Wait, what does that mean?” It was hard to articulate at the time, but now at least I have an example of a book that in trying to be deep only comes off as pretentious.

A large part of this is probably just an artefact of the time in which it was written. From the mid 1800s, and by a man better known for his poetry (everybody knows that poetry is innately more difficult to understand), it’s not surprising that the language used is both dense and unfamiliar.

I found it difficult to understand what was really happening at many points in the book, and was constantly confused as to what the point of the narrative was. The story is of a young man from Nantucket who stows away on board a ship and suffers through mutiny, shipwreck, and explorations of unknown seas. However, there is no sense of a greater story arc, and no strong sense of character. Plot and character development are either nonexistent or lost in the heavy language. I have no better picture of who Arthur Gordon Pym might be now than when I first read the title of the book.

It is unfortunate as well that Poe seems to reply on cheap and transparent tricks to keep the reader interested. Many chapters end on notes such as “I cannot but lament the most unfortunate and bloody events which immediately arose from my advise” in the midst of otherwise mundane conversation, and those that do not end just as abruptly and twice as dull.

Most chapters drone on and end abruptly, with no feeling of form or flow. Even worse, the ending is no different. We are told the last few chapters have been lost with the death of the narrator, but it seems more like a cop out than a mystery deliberately constructed to keep the reader wanting. We know that the character of Pym supposedly related to Poe stories of his adventures, so why wouldn’t Poe have been aware of the final conclusion to Pym’s adventure? The ideas developed in Poe’s final note, especially the linguistic puzzles and the forms on the caves described, come out of the blue and are disappointingly underdeveloped.

If anything this novel seems to be a draft, still rough around the edges, that requires much more work before it resembles a full and cohesive story that we might be interested in reading.

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