Friday, October 06, 2006

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

Note: spoilers ahead. There's just no way to talk about the good and bad points of this book without giving away some important plot issues.

I was greatly disappointed by this book. It had come highly recommended, the reviews I read were pretty positive, and the subject interested me: the inner workings of a biology lab, the lives of distinguished researchers, post-docs, lab techs, and their families. My husband was a graduate student in a research lab during the early years of our marriage, so the whole scene was familiar to me and I wanted to see how it was portrayed. Goodman does a pretty job in the first part of the book where she lets us get to know the characters and their environment. Then she introduces the possibility of scientific fraud – are someone's results "too good to be true?" and the book gets even more interesting for a while as we explore this possibility. At certain points in the middle of the book she gets a real momentum going and the book becomes a page-turner, at least for about 30 pages. Then the book starts to drag as we read about inquest after inquest, about everyone's doubts, miseries, and frustrations in the lab, and about the shenanigans of the lab's leaders as they attempt damage control. It all just goes on far too long. And then, Goodman doesn't even resolve the problem! She never tells the reader in the end whether the character really faked his data or not – she leaves it very ambiguous, with some evidence still pointing to fraud (or at least, overly hopeful interpretations) and other evidence that supports his honesty. When I finally realized that there would be no resolution, I was furious.

Can I continue to rant? I would have been happy to read about one fraud investigation; instead we are treated to three. And we really really don't need the chapters about the families of the various main characters; this is just extraneous filler that adds nothing to the book's essential plot, and drags down the momentum. It's like this book was a neat little truck, humming along on a good road, and about two thirds of the way through, the author decided to pile all this extra stuff (refrigerators, sofas, doubt, ambiguity) into the back of the truck, slowing it down until it finally ground to a halt, just short of its destination.

(Book 43, 2006)

4 comments:

Nonanon said...

Oh, too bad. I've been meaning to read this book for ages (after reading several positive reviews of it). Might still have to try but you make a compelling case for me not to bother.

Becky said...

You bring up an interesting point, which is the fact that most reviews are positive. I tried to find a review of Intuition to link to, and all I could find were positive reviews. Am I the only one who didn't like this book? But I've had this experience with other books I've disliked. Movie reviewers aren't afraid to say that a film stinks, but book reviewers will rarely say that something is a clinker.

zia said...

I've certainly had the same experience with hating a book and not being able to find other reviewers who hated it too. But in this case, I really liked Intuition. Though I'm having a hard time right now remembering it ...

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