“Galatea 2.2”

It was partly because I liked Richard Powers’ “The Overstory” so much that I tried as hard as I could to get through “Galatea 2.2” – but I simply couldn’t finish it, and gave up about a third of the way through. It has been a while since I last had to admit defeat like this.

Why? Largely because I had no idea what was going on. The language was mind-numbingly technical, over-clever, and it felt as if Powers was trying far, far too hard. One of the two main characters, Lentz, was repulsive to the point of caricature, and I had no connection at all with the narrator who seemed generally unrealistic. I didn’t care about either of them – or the project they were engaged in, which I understood only at a superficial level. It’s never good when your eyes glaze over as you try and read a passage of text.

But then it occurred to me that my reaction might have been as a result of the book having been written too well. The topic is scientific; Lentz a kind of eccentric genius-cum-madman. Perhaps what Powers had managed to do was to portray the subject, his characters, with too much depth, accuracy and precision.

I would have liked a way in to this Frankenstein-like world – because I think in many respects Powers is updating that myth here – but I couldn’t find a chink through which to force my way, and in the end gave up trying.