You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

Originally Published June 9, 2009

This Edition published in 2011 by Allen & Unwin Australia

392 pgs

3 stars (out of 5)

When I stumbled across this book in my local library I smiled like a crazy person and couldn’t wait to start reading. It was exactly the kind of book that appealed to me. Afterall, what more could a book lover want when they are presented with a book about books and about reading.

At it’s basis, ‘You or Someone Like You’ is a book about Anne, a wife of what appears to be a successful Hollywood producer and much admired and sought after man. She lives life her way, and likes to be kept in the shadows almost – she enjoys the idea of being unknown. That is, of course, until Hollywood’s elite begin to take notice of her and the books she carries around with her everywhere and they follow her blindly on a discovery through reading and books when she is pressured almost into creating a variety of book clubs. ‘You or Someone Like You’ is basically about these book clubs, the books within and the life she lives. How all of these interact and affect our lives.

I wanted so badly to love this book – I truly did -but while reading it, It just didn’t do it for me. For starters there narration is odd. Anne annoyed me more than I would like admit, and like the Hollywood elite in the book, we don’t really get to see too much of her character – especially in the beginning. While she’s reading the books, and carrying out her book clubs, we get her interpretations of the books, and life as she sees it – but it’s always from the perspective of some she knows. Her parents. Her son. Her Husband. Her housekeeper. Gardner. Assistant. The list goes on. Its like, Burr, didn’t really want us to know her. And that annoyed me. After all it is written from the first person perspective, but I’m not entirely sure that I feel as though I was ever really ‘in’ her head.

Furthermore, the beginning of the book bored me to tears. I’m not going to lie. I struggled with the first three-quarters of this book so badly that I found myself questioning why I had borrowed it and why I had thought it would be so fantastic in the first place. The story for the most part lacks direction. And its somewhat pretenious. It’s as though Burr sought out every literary icon he could and thought of some loose link (read a lot of literary name dropping) and reading of the text to add it in. That, although Anne’s character linked back to her family, or some random incident in her life, I didn’t feel as though it fit within the story at all. In fact, for a few hundred pages, I found myself getting angry at the format of the novel – book club book quote, barely any discussion of ‘Anne’s reading’ of the text, and then Anne’s excitement at her book club, but also her disappointment (it has previously been discussed and looked down upon that the “people in Hollywood don’t read!” – and while this may be the case (or it may not be), Anne always situated herself above these characters because of it.)

It wasn’t until the last hundred or so pages, that I feel the book, and it’s actual story really every started to begin. And boy, once it did, it took off like a rocket and I found myself glued to every sentence and page as I rushed towards the ending, dying to know what happens. The discourse and torment of Anne and Howard’s (her husbands) religious sides and the crumbling of their family and marriage, was delivered unbelievably well. It makes me wonder what Burr was really doing for the first part of the book. I was caught up in their emotions, and the turmoil and for the first time in the book, I could visualise what was happening to every character involved. I cried with them, and rejoiced and felt hollow and panicked when they did. I could see them, and fell them, rather that Burr telling me how to read them, and the stories within the story. It was a refreshing and rewarding change after the first chunk of the novel.

All this said, I am truly glad I read the book, and although I can’t say I would read it again, there was a lot I took away from it. The way the religious subject matter of the Jewish nature vs the gentile world was revealed and dealt with made me think about my life, and the past and the world as a whole. And I wondered what I would personal say and do had these things have happened to myself. Likewise, there are some little gems scattered through out the book, that really made me stop and think, and smile at (and with) Burr, because on occasion, even during the first half of the book, he got some things right, that I didn’t believe capable. For instance, having a BA in English, the idea of Literature both thrills and annoys me (due to University stand points on the issue) and I found a few of Burr’s one liners, and paragraphs within ‘You or Someone Like you’ where able to explain and better sum up something of the things the University aimed and failed to do through the four and half years I studied with them. It was both refreshing and rather confronting to see these things reflected in a book that I equally hated and loved at the same time.

Below are some of my favourite quotes from the book.

” ‘I’d said to them that when we read fiction, we pour our own particular store of emotions – say, the sense of loss we feel for those disappeared from our lives–into the characters set before us. We take the few words with which the writer sketches these characters, the thing he said, the pain she felt, where they were, and our own emotional stockpile magically creates people. As the human eye fleshes our the pixilated image. Fictional Characters are highly sophisticated Rorschach blots, and we, along with their author, are their authors. When you read a fictional character, you too are creating her.” (page 182-183)

“And as for literature, literature is not, and George Elliot is not, about politics. Literature, well done, illustrates the reality of human nature.” (203)

“Literature shocks not because what it shows about us is inherently surprising. It does the exact opposite. It is shocking because it breaks down what we would be and shows us what we know we are. Dividers of each other into races and groups. Ethicists. People who hate others via these concepts. And then why this is problematic. Because (this is the way I would rephrase Mann) art’s treacherous tendency is to show that we all bleed, and in the long run you will not withstand art’s construction of life, which is Shakespeare’s construction of life, a construction that ultimately finds all human persons fundamentally human, regardless of religion or biology.” (368)

Taking about teenagers:
“We forget that they also mourn incipient loss. High school will soon end, and they are reassuring one another that they will all be friends forever, and they are about to discover that this is false. They cover the sadness and fear. They bluff. The college applications are in, the tests are taken, the doors in sight, the control tower is guiding them to the take-off point, and they absolutely no idea how to navigate this flight.” (185)

This review was originally posted on Goodreads on July 18, 2012 and can be found here.


2 thoughts on “You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

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