About atomic bombs, time travelling and marriage problems

For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our second review is of Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet written by irene overbeeke.
(warning: this is not a review with a lot of depth, there’s no looking for several layers or drafts. It’s just a simple short impression of my primary thoughts on the book.)

The book starts with what seems to be a perfect marriage. Ann and Ben live their lives, she as a librarian, he as a gardener. I picture them as a nice couple, in which Ann is quite good looking, but not too much. And quite intelligent, but also not too much. I also think of Ben as a very attractive man, who at the same time is really sweet. Which in real life, I find is hardly possible. Of course this marriage is not what it seems, but more about that later.

20130824_161202 One night, Ann dreams about J.R. Oppenheimer, the scientist who was involved in the development of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan project, like some sort of revelation. Not long after that dream Ann sees Oppenheimer in real life. She decides to follow him, only to discover that he took some scientific friends with him, i.e. Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi. Noteworthy, Oppenheimer and the other scientists had been long dead when Ann discovered them. One can only conclude that some time travelling had happened. You’d think that would make it all very exciting, but that’s not all true. All the cool questions you might have about time travelling, all the interesting things and insights that the time travelling could elaborate, the amazing impact that the changes of time could have on the time traveler, are not revealed. That’s a shame, because I would have liked some more of that.

However, throughout the book we do learn some facts about the nuclear war and about the scientists that were involved in the Manhattan project. Although in my opinion this is not the coolest subject, at least we learn something. I liked to Google while reading and discover that the facts were actually true, according to Wikipedia at least.

It’s not only a time travel we have to work through, but also some regular travelling. For example, to discover everything about the impact of the atomic bomb, the scientists go to Hiroshima. Along the way they meet some racy people who come with. I didn’t always get why these people were introduced, but at least the book got spiced up with some weird characters. Through some perspective changes we can remark that Oppenheimer more and more realizes what the impact has been of that which he had invented, the so called nuclear shadow. And this doesn’t go down easy. This is not the only shadow that appears: we’re also witnesses of the way Ann gets swept away by these scientist guys. They have a sect-like influence on her. She finally feels like she’s having an exciting life, which is meaningful, according to herself at least. Ben patiently watches the development of these relations and he feels left out. Luckily, Fermi helps him with his gardening, so he isn’t totally left alone. What seemed to be a perfect marriage, appears to be a loose relationship in which neither of them is happy en they both want something different. A little communication wouldn’t do them any harm.

The end of the book is at least unexpected. It’s kind of a weird apocalyptic gathering, in which *some sort of spoiler alert* Fermi seems to fly away as a bird. Enough said about that.

All and all, the book had my interest. I loved to learn some things, and I liked the changes of perspective throughout the book. I also liked the idea of time travelling. Specifically in this case, because of the effects it had on the grand minds of these scientists with some disastrous results. Unfortunately this wasn’t the full focus of the author and we mainly got taken along with the worshiping Ann.

Concluding: don’t get too excited about the time travelling before you start reading, and try to mainly focus on all the facts the book can teach you. That way you maybe don’t get annoyed by the relationship between Ann and Ben (note: why did the writer actually chose rhyming names?)

Oh, and also, the book has some weird pace changes.

There, that’s all I have to say. For now. I will stop. Really. 

Rating: 3/5

irene overbeeke

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