Ditch by Hal Niedzviecki

Last week I finished reading Ditch, by Hal Niedzviecki. There is an excellent review of it ("The harrowing of Hal," by Kevin Bolger, The Globe and Mail, September 8, 2001) on Niedzviecki's own home page: Smell It.ca. I have to agree with much that is said here.

I was much less impressed by this novel than Bolger, perhaps because of the characters. Neither of the viewpoint characters has a vivid emotional life. Ditch and Debs seem dead to the emotions of others. I found it difficult to enjoy living in Ditch's head, because he manoeuvres so clumsily in human society. Debs is emotionally damaged yet too predatory to elicit sympathy.

To enjoy a well-written novel, I don't need to like the characters or to identify with them. What I do need is to enjoy seeing things from their point-of-view. In this case, the point-of-view was so limiting as to be suffocating. In a way this is a tour de force -- but I had to force myself to finish the book.

While I was reading I kept wondering why Niedzviecki puts his readers into the heads of the emotionally disabled and emotionally damaged. If there is moral intent behind this book, perhaps this answers my question. Could it be that we are supposed to feel empathy for Ditch and Debs, who have never felt it themselves? Perhaps Niedzviecki wanted to explore the emptiness of porn? Maybe he wanted to impress us with his prose style and distress us with the content. I hope it was not just sensationalism for sensationalism's sake. I get so bored of that, just as I get bored of a book in which the characters leave me cold.

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