I wasn’t overly fond of the style – it read a little bit like a screenplay; very descriptive, impersonal. We’re reliant entirely on our interpretation of what is seen and overheard (the woman speaks to her husband as he lies in a coma). I also struggled at times… with the authenticity of the woman’s character – would she really have used such harsh words in describing sexual acts? And that’s not to say I was affronted by those passages – I think the honesty was beautiful albeit painful; but I had reason to doubt it could really have occurred in the way it was described.
Having cleared up my reservations, I still took away much from this small book. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it, and that is a very good sign. Without wanting to give away too much, let me just say that I interpreted the story one way – that the man was in a coma as his wife disclosed to him her life’s discontent – but upon reflection I had reason to wonder whether in fact I had it all wrong. You could question whether he was in a coma at all. But by the same token you could question whether the climatic final pages ever took place either. You could question any number of other assumptions you had thought to be true. Add to that the fact that much of the story is suffused with dreams, with a fairly pivotal ‘story within a story’ woven throughout it – what “really happened in the end” remains shrouded in mystery.
The ability to conclude a book without concluding the story is something I treasure in a novel. This is something that The Patience Stone achieves so well, particularly because it is done so subtly. Books that tie up every loose end and expose every mystery, or alternatively hit you over the head with a blunt instrument trying to send you a message, are ultimately pretty boring. If you can put aside your fussiness about wanting the woman to represent the Afghani “Everywoman” and just enjoy the plot – the very idea of this story – then I think you will enjoy it as much I did.