25 Aug 2015
Book Review: Divergent
I read this book aloud with my girlfriend. We were looking for something simple and easy and this pretty much fit the bill. Plus, it lends itself to analysis and we both enjoy picking books apart. Here are my main thoughts on Divergent.
Anti-intellectualism-by-assumption is a strong theme in this novel. The main storyline is about a coup attempt cooked up by intellectuals who have become corrupted by their pursuit of knowledge and who are now thirsty for power. In principle this is a fine start for a plot, but Roth totally fails to pull it off. There nothing about why the intellectual faction of society wants to take control or about how they became corrupt. All I found were isolated truisms, usually a single sentence, that used the classic proof by “its obvious”.
A long time ago, Erudite pursued knowledge and ingenuity for the sake of doing good. Now they pursue knowledge and ingenuity with greedy hearts.
There is no description of how or why this transformation from good to greedy takes place. It is part of the premise of the story and not a part of the development of the story.
This plot may have worked if the reader spent some time seeing the development of the Erudite that lead up to the coup attempt. How do the values and lifestyle of the Erudite contribute to their misplaced contempt for Abnegation? Was the coup mostly a plot by a single leader (Jeanine) and her close allies, or was it a plan of action supported by most of the Erudite? The reader is left in the dark and is left to believe what is happening because the author says it is happening that way.
This leads to the second major issue with Roth’s world: a serious lack of self-consistency. Firstly, the world itself is not consistent. Despite the post-apocalyptic aesthetic the society appears to have unlimited access to advanced technology such as bio-interfaced computers, military materiel such as bullets, and enough energy to send mostly empty trains all around Chicago at all hours of the day. Where are the factories? The nanofabrication facilities? The power plants? Roth chose the post-apocalyptic aesthetic because it is trendy, but then ignored the logical implications because…well I don’t know why. They were inconvenient?
Secondly, the characters actions and responses often don’t make sense. Tris’s mother supposedly sacrifices herself to save Tris in a act of heroic motherly love. However, when you read the scene closely, what happens is Tris’s mom runs out towards an overwhelming number of soldiers and gets herself shot while Tris stands around the corner and watches. I was not convinced that Tris’s mom’s actions helped save Tris at all. You would think that conveying that would be pretty damn important in a heroic parental death scene. However, it is later taken as obvious that the sacrifice was completely necessary and saved Tris. It was as if the author decided it would be dramatic and Very Serious if Tris’s mom died a dramatic death in that scene, so she wrote it in. Tris’s father’s death scene was pretty much a repeat. The word for this stuff is melodrama. The arbitrary insertion of “dramatic” events to make the book more Serious. One more example is the scene where Tris shoots Will in the head. This is right after Tris decided she couldn’t kill Eric and shot him in the foot instead. So, Roth, why did Tris shoot to kill in the case of her friend but only to incapacitate in the case of her most hated nemesis? Why?? A shin can’t be any harder to hit than a head! The only reason was so that Roth could make Tris feel bad about killing her friend later to add some Seriousness to the situation. I pulled these examples from the end of the book because of their severity, but there were dozens more to stump the reader throughout the whole book.
There are a few reasons these inconsistencies may have made it into the book. As a YA book, it probably shouldn’t be over concerned with things like making sure the economy can produce the goods used by characters. Fine. Also, it could be that Tris is not a fully reliable narrator and her somewhat sheltered and youthful perspective leaves out some important details and changes other details because of her personal bias. Doubtful. It’s also possible that the author doesn’t care about the consistency and assumes her readers will ingest her storyline without applying any critical analysis. You know, that they will just take it on Faith…and judging by the afterword I consider this the most likely case.
Another typical examples of a Roth truism from the text:
“Welcome” he says. “Welcome to the Choosing Ceremony. Welcome to the day we honor the democratic philosophy of our ancestors, which tells us that every man has the right to choose his own way in this world.”
This quote bugged me because it implies that democracy is the right for everyone to choose their own way in the world. Really, democracy is one method for a group to decide which actions to take in a way that allows each person an equal say. Democracy is very different from allowing everyone to choose their own way in the world. It also has nothing to do with choosing which of a few segregated groups you want to spend your life with. This may seem minor, but it is an example of the isolated truisms that pepper the book. Statements like this quote take some backing up! It is possible the author meant something different from what my interpretation was, but with only one little sentence there is no chance to grasp the meaning.