Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner

"My name is Unimportant." That's the opening line and we never do find out the name of this one character, who is also the narrator. It's just one of the many questions this somewhat strange book leaves unanswered.

Three stories are told simultaneously, that of Noah, Joyce and Unimportant, but Unimportant isn't heard from after the first chapter until about midway through the book. Slowly and subtly the connection between the three of them comes to light, but their paths only cross in the most fleeting ways and they never actually come to know one another. They are all loners about whom we learn little in the course of the story. Noah is followed a little closer, but still I didn't feel I got to know any of them.

I'm having the hardest time deciding how I feel about this book. I more or less enjoyed it when I was reading it, but when it was time to pick it up again I wasn't a bit interested. I made myself finish it for some reason I can't quite put my finger on. I had read reviews that said it was "magical" and "comical" but those aspects of it were lost to me; couldn't find them anywhere. And the funny thing is I think it's probably a very good book. It didn't click with me , but the thought nags at me that if I looked at it more closely, or discussed it with my book club, I might be saying it's amazing. I hope one day I'll care enough to read it again.

Here are a few of the things (possible spoiler alert) about which I would like to hear what other people have to say :

1. The narrator is never given a name other than Unimportant.
2. A book "with no face" is meaningful in some symbolic way all through the book, then seems to be irrelevant.
3. "Unimportant" is going...where?
4. One chapter has no characters in it. It is simply a description of a room.
5. The characters are for the most part transient with few or no family attachments, but there is a car named "Grampa" and a boat named "Granma".
6. The concept of "trash archeology".
7. The book is titled "Nikolski".  This is the name of a tiny town on a tiny island in the far north that seems to have only a trivial significance in the story. None of the story is set there. None of the characters go there at any point in the story. ?.

As you can see this is not your average story. It's patchy and broken up, sometimes with years between chapters. It's like a puzzle for which you can find most of the pieces, but in the end you'll have to be content with a number of holes unfilled. Still, the writing is good, the characters get to you on some level and I think I have to recommend it. There's just something about it. Read it. See what you think.  


Anonymous said...

I read it, because it was on a recommended reading list for my son's Grade 11 English course, and I thought it sounded intriguing. We both thought it was okay but not memorable. Maybe it needs a reread? But that idea does not compel!

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