Idiot (Batuman) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Small pleasures will have to sustain you oer the long haul of this novel. The Idiot builds little narrative or emotional force. It is like a beautiful neon sign made without a plug. No glow is cast.
Dwight Garner - New York Times

[A] hefty, gorgeous, digressive slab of a book.… Batuman is an energetic and charming writer…there is more oxygen, more life in this book, than in a shelf of its peers. And in the way of the best characters, Batuman's creations are not bound by the book that created them. They seem released into the world. Long after I finished The Idiot, I looked at every lanky girl with her nose in a book on the subway and thought: Selin.
Parul Sehgal - New York Times Book Review

Batuman has won a Paris Review Terry Southern Prize for humor, and her book is consistently hilarious. If this is a sentimental education, it’s one leavened by a great deal of mordant and delightful humor.… At once a cutting satire of academia, a fresh take on the epistolary novel, a poignant bildungsroman, and compelling travel literature, The Idiot is also a touching and spirited portrait of the artist as a hugely appealing young woman.
Boston Globe

Beautifully written first novel…Batuman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, has an extraordinarily deft touch when it comes to sketching character…The novel fairly brims with provocative ideas about language, literature and culture.
Associated Press

Charming, hilarious and wise debut novel.… Batuman titled the book The Idiot (after Dostoevsky’s famous novel) but it isn't an excoriation of its heroine. Instead, it's a fond reflection. Oh, you poor, silly idiot, she seems to be saying. The Idiot, a novel of innocence and experience, is infused with the generous attitude that Dag Hammarskjöld expressed in his memoir Markings, "For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is to come, Yes!"
Dallas News

With her smart and deliciously comic 2010 debut, the essay collection “The Possessed,” Elif Batuman wrote one of the 21st century’s great love letters to reading.… It was a tour de force intellectual comedy encasing an apologia for literary obsession.… A different — though no less tenuous — variety of possession is explored in “The Idiot,” Batuman’s first nove.… The book’s pleasures come not from the 400-page, low-and-slow smolder of its central relationship, which can at times feel like nothing more than two repressions circling one another; rather, it is Selin herself. Acutely self-conscious but fiercely intelligent, she consistently renders a strange, mordantly funny and precisely observed world.… Selin’s is a consciousness one does not want to part with; by the end of the book, I felt as if I were in the presence of a strange, slightly detached, utterly brilliant friend. “I kept thinking about the uneven quality of time,” she writes, “the way it was almost always so empty, and then with no warning came a few days that felt so dense and alive and real that it seemed indisputable that that was what life was, that its real nature had finally been revealed.” Batuman articulates those little moments — of revelation and of emptiness — as well as anyone writing today. The book’s legacy seems destined to be one of observation, not character — though when the observer is this gifted, is that really any wonder?
Los Angeles Times

A vibrant novel of ideas.… Like her essays, Batuman’s bildungsroman is a succession of droll misadventures built around chance encounters, peculiar conversations and sharp-eyed observations. Both on campus and abroad, she brings the ever-fresh perspective of a perpetual stranger in a strange land. Her deceptively simple declarative sentences are underpinned by a poker-faced sense of absurdity and humor so dry it calls for olives.
San Francisco Chronicle

Easily the funniest book I’ve read this year.

Masterly funny debut novel . . Erudite but never pretentious, The Idiot will make you crave more books by Batuman.
Sloane Crosley - Vanity Fair

Batuman wittily and wisely captures the tribulations of a shy, cerebral teenager struggling with love, friendship, and whether to take psycholinguistics or philosophy of language . . .  Batuman’s writing is funny and deadpan, and Selin’s observations tease out many relatable human quandaries surrounding friendship, social niceties and first love. The result: a novel that may not keep readers up late turning pages feverishly, but that will quietly amuse and provoke thought.
Huffington Post

Batuman’s brainy novel is leavened with humor and a heroine incapable of artifice.

The Idiot is wonderful. Batuman, a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of the sparkling autobiographical essay collection The Possessed (2010), has brave and original ideas about what a “novel” might mean and no qualms about flouting literary convention. She is endlessly beguiled by the possibilities and shortcomings of language.… It is a pleasure to watch Batuman render this process with the wit, sensitivity, and relish of someone who’s successfully emerged on the other side of it. For all of her fascination with linguistic puzzle boxes, the author tempers her protagonist’s intellectual vertigo with maturity and common sense.

The Idiot is half The Education of Henry Adams and half Innocents Abroad. Twain would have savored Selin's first international trip to Paris, Hungary and Turkey.… Our first footsteps into adulthood are often memorable. Taking them in Selin's shoes is an entertaining, intellectual journey not to be missed.
Shelf Awareness 

(Starred review.) [W]onderful.… Selin narrates with fluent wit and inexorable intelligence … in prose as deceptively light as it is ambitious. One character wonders whether it’s possible "to be sincere without sounding pretentious," and this long-awaited and engrossing novel delivers a resounding yes.
Publishers Weekly

In this semiautobiographical debut novel, New Yorker writer and National Book Critics Circle finalist Batuman delightfully captures the hyperstimulation and absurdity of the first-year university experience.… [L]ighthearted and wry, with occasional laugh-out-loud zingers. —Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Selin is entrancing—so smart, so clueless, so funny—and Batuman’s exceptional discernment, comedic brilliance, and soulful inquisitiveness generate a charmingly incisive and resonant tale of themessy forging of a self.

(Starred review.) Selin is delightful company.… [H]er off-kilter relationship to the world around her is revelatory and, often, mordantly hilarious. Readers who are willing to travel with Selin at her own contemplative pace will be grateful that they did. Self-aware, cerebral, and delightful.”
Kirkus Reviews

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