My reading year has started in the best possible way: I have just finished An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, a perfect book for a book-lover.
An Unnecessary Woman is a book about books, and a book about the importance of seemingly unnecessary things (read art & literature). An Unnecessary Woman is an ode to the literary life – a wonderful novel!
The story’s protagonist – Aaliya Sohbi, a blue-haired 72-year-old woman – seems to have read and memorized most of the western canon, she is a woman who lives for, through and by literature. For an excessive reader there is a lot of joy related to recognizing how the author, Rabih Alameddine, is using historical and contemporary literary material in his construction of Aaliya’s story, An Unnecessary Woman is definitively an exceptionally intertextual piece of work. The abundance of references might annoy some readers, others, like me, will find it amusing.
Aaliya Sohbi is not an especially likeable woman, but she is definitively interesting. She is extremely introverted; she is an ill-tempered, sardonic recluse. Her views on the outside world and the people in it are extremely dark (to put it mildly). But she is not without charm.
This is what the author has to say about her:
Rabih Alameddine: I don’t like to admit it, but this is probably the most autobiographical novel I’ve written, even though she’s a blue-haired 72-year-old woman. I read reviews that said, ‘She’s a mean person… Who would love her?’ Probably that’s accurate enough, but my first reaction to that is, ‘Fuck you.’ I’m the same kind of misanthrope as Aaliya. I function better in some ways, but that need she has to pull away—that’s mine. So this might sound narcissistic, but I was in love with her from the outset. I can’t speak for all writers, but I would find it difficult to create a believable character if it were not love. Sadly, Aaliya would probably hate me, or at least avoid me. I talk too much. I ask for a lot of attention.
From my Scandinavian perspective, I will also hasten to add that I really enjoyed reading a story narrated by a woman situated in the Middle East, giving me a seldom opportunity to have a look at the world from a Beirut’ian point of view.