March Book Review0
The Mercy Room (alternatively titled Love Without Resistance) by Gilles Rozier; 2 stars (out of 5)
So there’s some nice language here and for me it’s an interesting story of questionable morality. I like what it does on that level. But we don’t get behind any of the character motivation and so while kind of interesting and with potential, I don’t really feel like it works quite well enough. But it’s a quick, easy, and thoughtful read, so I like it for that.
The issue of gender is unfortunately more of a party trick than a genuine, thought-provoking issue being tackled. In the beginning of the book I felt that Rozier seemed to be trying to write a woman main character but was doing it poorly, so so poorly, because the character felt so male but the author kept throwing things in that were supposed to make a reader think the character was female. I think, though, that his point is supposed to be that the main character is male, and the spouse (gender also unspecified, but assumed to be male) is female. Leading to the shock, I guess, of the relationship between the unnamed male main character and Herman. (Why else make it theoretically ambiguous?) So he wasn’t writing a woman badly after all. Except that there are so many things that make it so unlikely that the character is male. In the end then probably, Rozier wasn’t writing a woman poorly, he was writing the “trick” poorly. It’s just not well done or believable, and would have been far stronger a book and a story without the vagueness, which there really is no reason for. (For an example of writing a genderless narrator actually well, see Jeanette Winterson’s gorgeous Written on the Body. Not this book.)
There is something lovely in this book, but it’s not the “genderless” narrator aspect, at all. It’s the living through war (specifically the Holocaust and so add in issues of Anti-Semitism and discrimination, plus German vs Yiddish language) and every day morality in that situation, and maybe how you deceive yourself into thinking that your morality exists or is excusable.