by Hernan Diaz

Published 2022 402 pages

A lot of formal skill on display here, but a weird lack of spirit, as far as I can tell. The book must not resonate with me the way that it does with other people.

Spoilers ahead.

Trust is written in four parts, set in the late 1920s and 30s:

  1. a novel about a successful financier and his mentally-ill wife: how they met, their relationship, and his insistence upon treatment by convulsive therapy, which eventually kills her;
  2. a semi-complete autobiographical manuscript of the "real-life" (that is to say, real within the world of the story) financier upon whom the novel is based; the autobiography is meant as a denunciation of the novel, since the real-life financier's wife died of cancer and was, to all appearances, not mentally ill;
  3. a narrative belonging to the the real-life financier's ghostwriter: how she came to meet the financier, their relationship, the ghostwriter's nascent interest in the financier's dead wife, and finally, the financier's death; and
  4. the diary of the financier's dead wife, in the last weeks of her life, revealing at last that the wife was the real brains behind the financier's financial empire.

Like I said, formally really interesting! Peeling away the layers of stories we tell ourselves and others, trying to get people out of the way to access the truths at the centre. Okay! But for a story fundamentally propelled by people, Trust feels... lifeless? We're told that the novel in Part 1 is a bestseller and makes the reading lists of anyone who's anyone; we're told that the ghostwriter becomes nearly obsessed with the novel and its writer—but the prose is dead, a strict recounting of facts in the fictional financier's life, meandering only into the realm of the emotional when the fictional wife convulses herself to death. The real-life financier is, characteristically stoic—but then so is the ghostwriter herself: the scenes between them read more like a script than a book. The wife's diary, at the end, tugs at the heart a bit, but is too short and a little too packed with artistic minutae (the wife was a patron of experimental music) to really hit home.


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