The Instructions by Adam Levin

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The Instructions by Adam Levin

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A hugely ambitious and very long, violent coming of age novel narrated by a ten year old Zionist. May appeal to David Foster Wallace fans, but this reviewer found it over-written and repetitive.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 1030 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-0857861368

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Now, I know that size isn't everything, but the first thing that strikes you about 'The Instructions' is that it is a brick of a book. It comes in at a wrist-challenging 1030 pages that almost encourages me to invest in an e-reader. It's also hugely ambitious for a first time writer not least that the book's action takes place over just a few days and the narrator is a ten year old child. While it starts encouragingly, it too rapidly becomes repetitive and dull and I found it a slog to get through. There are some great passages but these get too easily lost in this huge tome.

The narrator is Gurion Maccabee, a Jewish kid who has been expelled from three schools for violence and messianic beliefs and who finally ends up in a special lockdown programme at Aptakisic Junior High. The problem for me was that I never either liked Gurion or, more importantly, found him to be terribly interesting. He's a violent, misguided thug, albeit that he has apparently a gifted understanding of the Jewish Torah. For 800 odd pages you know that something violent and big is going to happen, and then sure enough it does. To be fair, the ending is quite interesting but by then I had so lost the will to engage in the book that even this was lost on me a little. I suspect that there is a possibly quite good 350 page novel in here struggling to get out. In many ways, I don't blame the author for that - what it needed was a far, far stronger editing hand applied to it.

It's all very disappointing. It sounded like a blend of David Foster Wallace meets John Irving's 'Prayer for Owen Meany' but while both Levin and Foster Wallace are fans of more over less, this seemed over-written in a way that Foster Wallace doesn't. However, ardent fans of Foster Wallace may find this more to their liking. I'm more of a fan of the 'Owen Meany' style and felt let down by a lack of appeal of the central narrator here. It may help also if you have detailed knowledge of Jewish scripture or even American education systems.

I've seen some very favourable reviews of this book so, as you can probably tell, I'm searching for reasons for my dislike of this book and can only suggest that those who finish the book are likely to be ardent admirers because others will simply give up well before the end.

It's also a book where the epigram is essential reading, taken from Flann O'Brien's 'The Third Policeman'. Without this, it would appear that Levin is supporting the violence that ensues which is I suspect not the case.

I can forgive the artistic licence required to believe that these are the thoughts of a genuine ten-year old. Sadly though, I failed to detect any of the promised hilarity or even the romance which is based on Gurion's infatuation with a slightly older gentile girl. If you are in the mood for a violent, long, coming of age novel, you may well enjoy this more than I did, but sadly I cannot recommend this book.

Our thanks to the people of Canongate for sending this book to The Bookbag.

For more messianic-based fiction, then you might also enjoy The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey.

Buy The Instructions by Adam Levin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Instructions by Adam Levin at

Buy The Instructions by Adam Levin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Instructions by Adam Levin at


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