The Eyes of the WorldOctober 11, 2011
So, The Eyes of the World is pretty bad. There are some mildly entertaining bits, and a lot of really average bits, but mostly there are really terrible bits.
The relationship between the hero, Aaron King, and his mentor Conrad Lagrange was one of the things I sort of liked. Aaron is pretty much a nonentity, but Lagrange is interesting. He’s a famous novelist who hates his work and the people who read it. He hates himself, too. I don’t know why he persists in writing what he believes to be trash when he refuses to be friends with anyone who’s willing to read it–the fortune and fame rationale he puts forward doesn’t really cut it. He’s already famous and wealthy. Why is he continuing to write books he believes to be actively harmful? Anyway, he spends the entire book being bitterly self-deprecating and alternating between deriding Aaron’s attempts to be better and encouraging him to hold on to his ideals. Also, he’s got a cute dog.
Sadly, this book is not about Conrad Lagrange, who, even though he’s basically a caricature of himself, is easily the most three-dimensional character in it. It’s about Aaron King, and how his mother sacrificed stuff so he could finish his education and become successful, and how after a not particularly suspenseful bunch of chapters during which he thinks ‘success’ and ‘fame’ are synonymous, he realizes they’re not.
If he was a normally intelligent human being, he would realize this, like, five minutes into his first proper conversation with Lagrange, who never talks about anything else. But Aaron is a two-dimensional character in a pretty bad book, so it takes him the better part of a year (and a romance with an innocent young girl who embodies the spirit of the mountains) to figure it out. Meanwhile, he’s being chased around by Mrs. Taine, whose primary character trait is wearing clothing that pretends to be modest while emphasizing her voluptuousness. Mrs. Taine is married to a man who probably resembles Dorian Gray’s portrait shortly before its owner’s demise, and she represents all that is evil in the world, AKA culture.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But seriously, Harold Bell Wright hates the artistic establishment so much, and also probably doesn’t know it very well. In this book it is apparently possible to be a good artist only by completely ignoring outside influences, while, as far as I can tell, if you’re a critic or a patron of the arts, there are no good choices: you’re doomed to hypocritical parasitism. Also I can’t figure out if Wright thinks there’s any way to consume art or literature while remaining morally upright. No one who has figured out the answer to that question appears here, anyway. Wright’s thesis, it turns out late in the book, is that anyone who thoroughly involves him or herself in the world is depraved and possibly insane.
Well, better that than creepily over-identifying with the massively dull main character of your lousy book.