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"Miller dwells less on the atrocity committed at N— than on how is character will come — slowly, with difficulty — to 'regain some small, stubborn belief in others.' The Optimists feels thin for the same reason: Where a study of violence or photography or the indifference of the modern world might be, is, instead, a story built on that worn theme, the endurance of the human spirit." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
Clem Glass was a successful photojournalist, firm in the belief that photographs could capture truth and beauty. Until he went to Africa and witnessed the aftermath of a genocidal massacre.
Clem returns to London with his faith in human nature shattered and his life derailed. Nothing — work, love, sex — can rouse his interest and no other outlook can restore his faith. The one person Clem is able to connect with is his sister, who has made her own sudden retreat from reality into the shadows of mental illness, and he finds some peace nursing her back to health in rural Somerset. Then news arrives that offers him the chance to confront the source of his nightmares.
From the celebrated author of Ingenious Pain and Oxygen, this is a masterfully rendered novel that explores the perilously thin line between self-delusion and optimism.
"A powerful study of emotional trauma, English writer Miller's third novel (after Ingenious Pain and Oxygen) probes the horrors of genocide as well as what Hannah Arendt called 'the banality of evil.' Clem Glass is a veteran photojournalist who thought he was inured to man's inhumanity to man until he witnessed the aftermath of a genocidal massacre in Africa. Unable to wipe the images of murdered women and children from his mind, Clem wanders distraught around London. When his older sister, Clare, a professor in Dundee, has a recurrence of the mental breakdown she suffered some years earlier, Andrew is at first unable to deal with any additional emotional problems. Instead, he flees to Canada to consult a colleague, a journalist who also witnessed the massacre and found solace in caring for society's outcasts. Eventually, Clem takes responsibility for his sister and nurses her back to health. When he finally confronts the man responsible for the slaughter in Africa, he realizes it's impossible to exact revenge for an act of such cosmic evil. He himself must hit emotional rock bottom before he achieves a tentative optimism and reaffirms his faith in life. Miller's story is starkly illustrative of the wide range of human behavior in the so-called civilized world. The guardedly positive ending reveals the irony in the book's title; only 'a small, stubborn belief' can be wrested from the circumstances of modern life. (Apr. 5) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] work of solemn artistry. Miller's style is one of guarded lyricism, in which he allows just enough poetry in the language to get the job done, the mood or moment caught." New York Times
"Beautifully written, astutely observed, and as maddeningly inconclusive as life itself. Miller remains a gifted, thoughtful writer." Kirkus Reviews
"Miller...renders potent, polished prose." Booklist
About the Author
Andrew Miller's first novel, Ingenious Pain, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the International IMPAC Award. He was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award for his novel Oxygen. He lives in Brighton, England.
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