A Publisher Makes a Dare That Should Not Have Been Taken
By Arnon Grunberg
Farrar, Straus Giroux
278 pp., $22
From the Netherlands, where it became a bestseller, comes a novel written by a young author who wrote this book on a dare: "Blue Mondays," by Arnon Grunberg, translated by Arnold and Erica Pomerans.
This book had its genesis at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Grunberg met a Dutch publisher and regaled him with stories of his adventures as a high school expellee hanging around Amsterdam and consorting with prostitutes and petty criminals.
In response to the publisher's dare, Grunberg wrote a book about his adventures and voil - "Blue Mondays," a novel (using the term very loosely) about a young man named Arnon who is expelled from high school and who proceeds to do his best, on limited financial means, to paint the town red, starting and ending with its red-light district.
Seemingly, some portion of the Dutch reading public took this tale to their hearts. Equally amazing, the classier-than-thou American firm of Farrar, Straus Giroux has chosen to publish it in this country, apparently in the deluded belief that the author is a young Philip Roth.
Imagine a Philip Roth without talent, without the tiniest spark of originality or inventiveness, and without the ability to sustain a coherent narrative or crack a truly funny joke. You'll still have no inkling of just how bad a book "Blue Mondays" actually is and wonder why it was ever published.
* Merle Rubin regularly reviews books for the Monitor.