16 November 2005


I chose to read this novel in part because of the reputation of its author, Australian Peter Cameron, but mostly because of its title. As a child I had a predictable fascination with the very small and very large; Andorra was a target of this fascination because it is the smallest country in Europe. As a voracious encyclopedia reader, I must have learned something about Andorra back then, but nothing has stuck with me except the fact of its size.

Which really has nothing to do with this novel, except that the smallness of the country somehow lends credibility to the almost Kafkaesque oddness of it as described by Mr. Cameron. The description is just this side of believable, even in contemporary times, even in Europe—as if reality is different in a small country.

You read this finely written book in good faith, turning pages because—while the first-person narrator is somewhat distant and opaque—you buy into the story: someone has gone away to a remote place to get over a great grief. For a time you don’t know what the grief is, and then you do, and you start to sympathize with this cold, opaque character.

Chinks begin to appear. Other characters don’t see the protagonist just as you do. Some of them are unreasonably fond of him; others develop a surprising antipathy. You don’t understand why, but you go along. And then, finally, you realize your sympathy was misplaced.

If this is a spoiler, so be it. The novel’s “surprise” ending is entirely unpaid for. While there are things to admire about Andorra, I don’t recommend it. When I closed its covers what I felt most was annoyance.

In reviewing other responses to the novel, I see I may have missed something by taking it so literally. But I'd argue that this shallow story—however clever—hasn't earned such multilayered readings.

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