Beejay Silcox reviews 'The Idiot' by Elif Batuman

Beejay Silcox reviews 'The Idiot' by Elif Batuman

The Idiot

by Elif Batuman

Jonathan Cape $32.99 pb, 432 pp, 9781910702703

Email is a chimeric beast, an uneasy mix of intimacy and distance – unlimited time and space to say precisely what we mean, coupled with the unnerving promise of instant delivery. When it first arrived, email seemed to invite a new kind of writing – deliberate, earnest, vulnerable. We tried to sound smarter and wittier than we were, and it showed. The Idiot, Elif Batuman’s début novel, inhabits those gloriously pretentious early days, before email became a burden, when we used it to craft elaborate musings and manifestos, and to disguise our love letters as musings and manifestos.

The eponymous twit of The Idiot is Selin Karadağ, a New Jersey-born daughter of Turkish immigrants, who dreams of becoming a writer, or rather, believes that she is already a writer, a conviction ‘completely independent of my having ever written anything, or being able to imagine ever writing anything, that I thought anyone would like to read’. When Selin arrives at Harvard in 1995, an email address is waiting for her, with all of its shiny possibilities and pitfalls. Always there, unchanged, in a configuration nobody else could see, was a glowing list of messages from all the people you knew, and from people you didn’t know, like the universal handwriting of thought or of the world ... And each message contained the one that had come before, so your own words came back to you. All the words you threw out, they came back.’

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Published in May 2017, no. 391
Beejay Silcox

Beejay Silcox

Beejay Silcox is an Australian writer, literary critic and cultural commentator, and the recipient of ABR’s Fortieth Birthday Fellowship. Her award-winning short fiction has been published at home and internationally and recently anthologised in Meanjin A-Z: Fine Fiction 1980 to Now, and Best Summer Stories 2018. Her story ‘Slut Trouble’ was commended in the 2016 Jolley Prize and republished in Best Australian Stories 2017. She is currently based in Cairo - writing from a house in the middle of an island, in the middle of the Nile. 

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