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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

The Book of Trouble

Ann Marlowe

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Book of Trouble

Title: The Book of Trouble
Author: Ann Marlowe
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2006
Length: 261 pages
Availability: The Book of Trouble - US
The Book of Trouble - UK
The Book of Trouble - Canada
  • A Romance

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting bits, but not much romance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Forward . 27/1/2006 Tessa Brown
The LA Times . 5/2/2006 Marion Winik
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/2/2006 Frances Lefkowitz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Overflowing with rhetorical questions and descriptions of intense lovemaking, the book reads more like a self-indulgent diary than like a memoir. Many of Marlowe's travels and cultural observations are interesting, and she is impressively well informed about Middle Eastern culture, but for a book that professes itself to be a romance, she spends disappointingly little time on the affair itself. Furthermore, her attempt at flashbacks leaves the narrative jumpy and confusing, the chronology of events never quite clear." - Tessa Brown, Forward

  • "She has now become the world's most intellectual obsessive ex-girlfriend. I'm not complaining. Given the number of fairly stupid books on these topics, I say, Allah be praised. (...) Throughout, her intellectual intensity and unusual emotional wiring combine to generate pretty interesting positions. (...) In the end, it's the banality of the love affair that yields one of the most interesting aspects of The Book of Trouble: You get the actual experience of seeing how a really smart person, perhaps a person such as yourself, can so utterly fool themselves about a lover." - Marion Winik, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Marlowe is at her strongest dissecting the cross-cultural vagaries of love, intimacy, gender roles, family and marriage (though she's got a bit of an obsession with that cousin marriage thing). (...) Though she has trouble with love -- and with summarizing her love troubles -- she has a gift for riffing back and forth between the personal and the global, and landing on some fascinating insights about the way we live." - Frances Lefkowitz, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ann Marlowe is a cerebral soul. A while back she was about the most coldly rational drug addict you're ever likely to meet (as chronicled in her previous memoir, How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z), and now she takes a similar intellectual-analytic approach to her love-life (though thankfully she does not do so in alphabetic style in this book).
       The Book of Trouble may be subtitled: A Romance, but this is not your usual heart-melting chick-lit fare. Indeed, 'romance', isn't much in evidence here. Framed around what can only loosely be described as a love affair, with an Afghan Princeton graduate who was ten years younger than her (she's in her mid-40s in the period covered in the book) and expected to marry a virgin half his age, The Book of Trouble is a soul-searching riff on coupling in all its variations (sex, marriage, relationships), with a focus on cultural (and especially religious and ethnic/national) influences.
       Marlowe likes having sex, and has a lot of it. Part of Amir's -- so the love-interest's name -- appeal is that when he does sleep with her, they're ... very active. Marlowe is also pretty bright. It's pretty clear from the book, but in case you missed it she mentions attending Harvard, learning eight languages, and generally enjoying an intellectual environment. So she's driven by sex, and she's driven by her brain -- but that middle part, the heart, proves more problematic. Incessantly (over-)analytic, she knows she has a problem:

I've had many lovers, men and women, nearly every kind of sex you can have, three proposals in my twenties. But it gnaws at me that there is something I never learned, something I tried to blunder upon but never saw for what it was.
       It might gnaw at her, but neither readers nor she can be surprised by it by the time she makes this observation.
       The Book of Trouble traces her ill-fated relationship with Amir, and from early on the reader must wonder what the hell she is thinking. Amir is not a catch. And he almost never behaves in a way that would suggest he would let himself be caught, at least by Marlowe.
       Much of the point is, of course, that über-thinker Marlowe isn't thinking when it comes to this relationship. She's simply in love (with a healthy dose of lust to go with it -- the sex seems to be a major attraction here). Except that she seems congenitally incapable of doing anything very simply, least of all being in love.
       What she does do is analyse and frame explanations. Marlowe is Jewish (though not observant), and she has a whole tribal thing going. She's fascinated by the cultural approaches to dating, romance, and marriage, the three main foci being the Jewish and Islamic traditions, as well as the contrast of contemporary New York (where she lives). Cousin-marrying pops up repeatedly: she's fascinated by this idea of keeping it in the family (and the consequences thereof).
       Amir doesn't even figure that prominently in much of The Book of Trouble (it really wasn't much of an affair), but he's on her mind as she travels abroad (notably to Afghanistan, as well as then to Baghdad). These travel-sections, which find her confronted (and also embraced) by completely different cultures, are quite interesting (if in part a bit off-topic); they also suggest to her more reasons why she might be having problems with Amir (and men in general).
       The mix of sociological, anthropological, and political can get a bit heady, but Marlowe keeps things moving along (and there is all that exotic locale). She digs deep -- or at least casts her net wide -- but it's almost painful to read about her desperate search for explanations:
     My skepticism about the biological basis of intimacy became disdain when I read some recent scholarship on Victorian American courtship
       Not that she doesn't come up with interesting observations: those readings suggest to her that: "The idea that men are emotionally disabled compared with women doesn't agree with this kind of historical evidence", and:
The denigration of male emotion is popular because it helps explain the more general failure of many Americans to feel, and the tendency of both men and women to intellectualize their emotions and valorize managing relationships rather than falling in love.
       Marlowe sees systems that work elsewhere -- in the past, in the family-structure in Afghanistan, etc. -- but she doesn't fit in any of them. It makes for a frustrating adventure.
       The book is also packed with details that often feel pretty much beside the point. Yes, she can tie in her interest in languages, or having Ahmed Chalabi over for dinner before anyone (including her) knew who he was, with her other concerns, but she does take that a bit far.
       While Marlowe seems brutally honest and revealing about herself, one of the problems with the book is that though she is appealingly smart and writes well about most of the subjects she address, she is simply not very sympathetic. Far worse, for what is billed as a romance, is that Amir sounds like just a jerk. (Sure, that's part of the message: women fall for men who aren't suitable partners (and vice versa) -- but that doesn't help make it any more appealing.)
       So at the end of this sprawling book there's a bitter taste in the reader's mouth, and a big, fat re-affirmation that love sure don't conquer all. Yes, it's well-written enough, for what that's worth, and there are some interesting titbits, opinions, and observations, but it's not very satisfying.
       It's not a bad book, but hardly a necessary one.

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The Book of Trouble: Reviews: Other books by Ann Marlowe under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer Ann Marlowe graduated from Harvard and has an M.B.A. from Columbia. She has worked in investment banking and consulting, done heroin, and written for numerous publications, including The Village Voice and Artforum.

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