The Idiot by Elif Batuman: Review

The Idiot Elif Batuman

The Idiot by Elif Batuman


Today on The Tattooed Book I’m reviewing the first book on my Women’s Book Prize reading list, The Idiot by Elif Batuman.


It’s the early 90s and Selin’s a Turkish-American studying as an undergraduate of linguistics at Harvard. Between attempts to learn the intricacies and nuances of various languages, she falls in love with another student, a man from her beginner’s Russian class called Ivan.

Her relationship with Ivan starts as a writing experiment, her emails to him are both a way to understand the new technology and improve her Russian. A relationship builds through their messages but Ivan puts off a real-world union until eventually, Selin meets Ivan…and his girlfriend. We all know, the course of true love never did run smooth and soon she ends up in Hungary, nursing a broken heart and learning more about the differences in cultures and languages than ever before.

‘I wanted to know how it was going to turn out, like flipping ahead in a book. I didn’t even know what kind of story it was, or what kind of role I was supposed to be playing. Which of us was taking it more seriously? Didn’t that have to be me, because I was younger, and also because I was the girl? On the other hand, I thought that there was a way in which I was lighter than he was – that there was a serious heaviness about him that was foreign to me, and that I rejected.’


You might be thinking my above description is a bit thin on the ground, well there’s a very simple reason for that; not a lot happens. The paperback version of this novel is 432 pages long but I’m pretty sure the plot could have fit into half of that. This novel is intelligent, occasionally witty and has great descriptions of some of the characters and locations. But I’m sorry to say that these plus points just weren’t enough to save it for me. The relationship between Selin and Ivan never really reaches an intensity to explain her pining, feeling altogether lacklustre In short, I got bored, there just wasn’t enough going on to keep my attention. Smart is great but if there’s nothing interesting happening then your mind can’t help but wonder elsewhere. The Idiot wasn’t one for me.


Keep an eye out for my reviews on the rest of the Women’s Prize shortlist coming soon. In the meantime follow me on Facebook to keep up-to-date with all my book news and reviews.


Check out my review for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 winner Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.




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