“The death of a broken-down old man is, unquestionably, the least poetical topic in the world.”
First up, a disclaimer. I suspect this is the strangest book I have ever read. I have no morsel of proof, nothing to waive around in a court for all to gawk at. All I remember is the words on the paper, and a surreal feel from the reading.
Right from the get-go, Bergen launches us into his weirdest book yet.
“First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed‐ up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my skull, and a loud explosion followed.”
As said, the beginning really hooks you. It’s strange, funny, serious, and actually starts with action that jumps backwards. I mean, if an author can pull THAT off, I’m sold. However, the loose thread of a plot might be to the dislike of some readers.
We witness a murder finished, a man and woman smoking over the corpse all nonchalant. Then we jump foreword to the first chapter where our narrator gives a deluge of internal monologues about life and likes. This punctuates the fact that I thought Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was verbose. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is the very definition of verbosity.
And I fear a tad bit could’ve been cut to help the pace brisk along. While it does move fairly fast for a novel just a tad over two hundred pages, it sometimes dwelled on descriptions rather than actions. That’s not to say the former wasn’t needed. No, it very much was to establish the beautiful Japanese history, but sometimes, rarely but just enough, it felt like padding.
Nevertheless, if I ever became bored with some trivial matter, too much wordage or not a hint of tension, Bergen dropped a completely new scene on me.
His plot was very jumpy which creates a distorting, somewhat rollicking story and, to a lesser extent, pace. Yes, it’s all becoming confusing, right? Well, that best defines Bergen’s second novel. It’s a befuddling mess of a story.
“I don’t exactly recall how I arrived.”
However, Bergen’s second novel is better than the first, as expected.
Whereas in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat the author tried to balance character, world-building, and plot, here he focuses almost solely on character. To that, I cannot congratulate him enough. Wolfram was such an annoying character as time went on, seeming to bicker at every shred of information his guide presents him. But this could be made out to be passive aggression, seeing as he’s a dead man.
What I really enjoyed was that this isn’t the story of our narrator, Wolfram, but of the guide, Kohana.
She’s an enigma, shooting off random history and sarcasm at every turn. We learn her past from memories they experience, like A Christmas Carol but not. And from these incidents do we see the shell being peeled away, making a sympathetic and almost tragic woman.
It would be a disservice to mention Bergen’s extreme love of pop references.
He litters the story with mentions of Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dickens, World War 2 from the Japanese side, and numerous bands that I don’t have a clue are. Yes, if there’s one thing that Bergen can pull off in every novel, it’s the dialogue and name drops.
If there is one way to best describe this novel, it’s taking a taxi through the streets of some major city. Possibly Tokyo. Only, the taxi is speeding without traffic, and when there is, he doesn’t stop. Oh, and he speaks in a foreign language the whole time. But what about the sharp curves, barely seen until you’re already turning them? And by the time he’s placed you at the steps of your exit, the beat in your chest is about to explode.
Yes, that is what to expect. Except, nothing is that straight-forward. It’s a post-modern story with the wheels inside the wheels analogy, save that Bergen gives you the much needed support of spokes in the guise of brilliant characters.
While it may be my least favorite of the three, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude will appeal to any reader who loves a, simply put, wonderful tale.
“In that story Sutherland gives chase to another child-sized fugitive in red. He presumes this is his recently deceased daughter, but it turns out to be a homicidal dwarf. Nothing is what it seems.”