Whenever the blurbs on the back of a book cover describe it as “luminous” I get worried. Usually that means that the sentences go on forever and use deliberately opaque language and substitute general confusion for clarity of purpose and plot. I hate that kind of book.
I thought that despite the presence of that damned word “luminous” I could rely on E.L. Doctorow. I had read five of his other novels and enjoyed most of them very much. None of them struck me as particularly “luminous.”
City of God, on the other hand, is “luminous” in spades. Ostensibly, it is about the relationship that develops between an Episcopal priest and a female rabbi after a strange act of vandalism brings them together. Really, though, Doctorow splices that rather straightforward, if uninteresting tale with an incomprehensible mishmash of other narrators, including a film director exploring the universe’s philosophical contradictions, a Holocaust survivor’s recollections, a newspaperman turned unwitting murderer, and Albert Einstein and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
None of this is as interesting as it might seem from that description. It is impossible to understand why Doctorow includes much of what he does, and why he put it in the order that he does. Indeed, his intentions in writing this book at all are indiscernible.
My intentions in writing this review, however, are perfectly clear. I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake as I did. Don’t read this book. It’s not worth it.