The Hollow Man – Dan Simmons – Review

I decided to join Carl’s  Once Upon a Time reading challenge because I thought it could open me up to different types of books.  I’m still not sure what quest I’m doing; having completed one book I’ve successfully completed one of the quests but I think I might still try to read a few more.  Time will tell. 

I chose The Hollow Man from the fantasy section because my dad absolutely raves about Simmons and The Hollow Man description reminded me a bit of The Talisman, one of my favorite books of all time.  I’ve heard wonderful things about Simmon’s latest, The Terror, as well as good things about Summer of Night and Carrion Comfort. I particularly like books that travel through different worlds…not different planets, mind you, but different dimensions and The Hollow Man promised much of this.  And certainly it started off well, with our hero Jeremy Bremen losing his beloved wife with whom he shares an extraordinary telepathy to a brain tumor.   Both Gail and Jeremy are capable of hearing the thoughts of those around them, and only through extrasordinary forces of will are they able to “turn off” their telepathy for any length of time.  Gail, though, is able to often protect Jeremy from the cacophony of noise that nearly drives him crazy and when she passes away suddenly the sounds of a thousand thoughts of other people take him over.  Unable to stop hearing the thoughts of others and racked with grief, Jeremy gives his cat to the neighbors, quits his job, withdraws all the money from his checking account, sets his home on fire and starts making his way across America.  The impetus for this treck is supposed to be, I think, his search for silence, but from the beginning it wasn’t quite enough for me to suspend my disbelief and accept this treck.

As Jeremy travels from Florida to a desert ranch to Denver to Las Vegas, I’m never quite sure what he’s searching for. The book chapters fluctuate between Jeremy and Gail’s life together (and to that end Simmons captures marriage beautifully) and Jeremy’s exploration.  We learn that Jeremy was a math teacher, and he found a way to mathmatically explain (with the help of a Harvard scientist) not only the telepathy he shares with Gail but the ability for humans to exist in more than one world at the same time, and I believe one of the points of the book was to discard traditional ideas of heaven without forsaking other possibilities for life after death.  Midway through the book Simmon’s brought in a lot of math and a lot of gore and between the two I found myself thoroughly confused.  I’m not going to give the ending away, (1.) because who knows, you might want to read it and (2.) because I didn’t understand the conclusion at all, but as I moved towards the end of the book I could tell I wasn’t going to buy what Simmons was trying to sell – namely, our immortality can be found in the minds of others.  Or something like that.

As a protagonist, I found Jeremy difficult to empathize with,  and the world Simmons creates is so dark and dastardly that I really needed some sort of firm resolution to justify the time I spent in it.  I did not receive that and by the end of the book I found myself wanting to throw it across the room.

Others may feel differently.  I’ll be giving Simmons a couple more chances.  For now, I’m not even sure this book counts as fantasy but that’s the shelf I tried it on and I’m counting it as such. 

Other reading news: I decided to celebrate the turning of each decade by re-reading some old favorites and I started early this week with Beach Music, which really I’m disecting chapter by chapter to help me understand how the novel is constructed but still falls nicely into the beginning of this year of re-reads.  Now that I’m back again I’ll turn my attentions again to Tostoy and C.S. Lewis but I’m not sure what else I’ll pick up next – The Hollow Man has tainted my reading palate and I need something really fabulous to cleanse it. I need tangy sorbet of a book to rid myself of this last one…

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4 Responses to The Hollow Man – Dan Simmons – Review

  1. emilybarton says:

    If you’re looking for a C.S. Lewis book that will cleanse your palate, you might try Till We Have Faces. I read it and decided I need read no other fiction title written by him, because nothing else he wrote could possibly be as good. (I probably will, one day, read others, but I haven’t yet.)

  2. Andi says:

    I’m in complete agreement with Emily. Till We Have Faces is my favorite C.S. Lewis offering, and it’s one of my all-time favorites as well.

  3. Kailana says:

    I did not know that Dan Simmons wrote this book. I see him at the store all the time, but it is usually the same titles over and over again, without seeing this one. Interesting thing to learn!

    On C.S. Lewis, I had never heard of “Till we have faces” by him, but now I am going to go look it up. The only thing I have read by him is the Chronicles of Narnia, and to be honest, I loved them and never felt compelled to read anything else by him, but that might change. 🙂

  4. Matthew Short says:

    I have found Simmons’ shorter works quite incredible, generally stuff up to the novelette length. The longer works tend to overreach around themes of human transcendence from the material world.

    Funnily enough, there are similarities with Tim Powers in the recasting of historical poets or poetry quite often. Both authors handle it a bit clumsily, but Powers injects a level of humor which allows us to forgive him. With Simmons, it sometimes feels like a self-serving comparison to Keats, Homer, Shakespeare etc.

    Unfortunately, the better and shorter works by Simmons tend to be incredibly dark. Song of Kali is amazing, but also an amazingly dark view of humanity.

    I loved Terror, but it was too long. Again, the final attempt at human transcendence didnt fit well.

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