Sunday, September 8, 2013

Before I Burn | Thoughts

Rather like the time it takes to start a fire, it took me a while to get into Before I Burn, and possibly even longer to finish it. Before I Burn came at a difficult time for me - it sat nestled between exams, papers and reality. It saw me through most of my exam season, as well as on vacation (where it was usually shunted aside in favor of more hours of sleep), and through the writing of my final assignment for this school year (only a month before the start of the next). I finally finished Before I Burn the other night, and it seems like this prolonged period spent with the book did not actually harm it in any way. Before I Burn affected me in a way this year's books simply haven't. Though it's far from being one of those books I will tout nonstop - or even a top-tier book in my mind - it's got something special. It's worth it.

Before I Burn is a book that surrounds empty spaces. It slips from one plotline to another, focused mostly on its young, intelligent men. These men - their struggles, their triumphs, their failures - form the backbone of the novel. There's something a bit distant to the whole thing, but Gaute Heivoll writes with so much compassion for his characters (one of whom is himself, sort of, maybe, who knows?) that I couldn't help but feel for them. The distance is a bit like the setting - houses in a small town, everyone knows everyone, but there are patches of empty land between each home. How else could you not notice a pyromaniac setting your houses alight?

I was talking to one of my many literary aunts about the book just after I finished it. She was saying how she likes her books to be full of color and smell. She doesn't like "gray books". I told her she wouldn't like Before I Burn - full of gray shadows and gray spaces. Except for when it burns red. Before I Burn is a slow build, but it does build. It builds beautifully and powerfully, and though I knew the end, it managed to surprise me anyways. It's a book that I can easily see myself opening at random just to enjoy its environment and its world.

I liked Before I Burn. I liked its characters, I liked its perspective, I liked its plot and I liked the way it built around it. There are no compromises here, but small tragedies. There is disappointment and love side-by-side. Before I Burn looks at families with a calm eye. It looks at mental illness with unequaled coolness. It shifts through decades and generations with ease and expertise. It is, in all honesty, a good book. It may have taken me a while to get through, but I'm very glad to have read it.

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