Book Review: The Grammarians

I’ve been thinking about doing book reviews, so I thought about trying one out today. What do you think of the format? It’s a work in progress. The sectional ratings are out of 10.

The Grammarians    by  Cathleen Schine

Sarah Crichton Books      Farrar, Strauss and Giroux   New York   2019

Synopsis- The lives of  highly intelligent, identical twin girls who tend towards the pedantic. We see their story played out via the help of an archaic dictionary that their doting father brought them home as a gift. The novel takes place in the second half of the twentieth century in New York City and its surrounding suburbs. It would be classified as General Fiction.

The Ratings

Characters- The main characters in this book are not likable. They come off as rude, condescending and boring. If you want characters that you root for, this book is NOT for you. Rating: 4

Plot- There is really no plotline. We see the girls grow up, and while there is a climax of sort, it’s mainly underplayed. You do not wonder what will happen, you wonder if anything ever will happen. If you are plot focused, this book is not for you. Rating: 5

Setting- While there is some colorful New York City in the seventies/eighties references, this is not a lush narrative wherein the location makes the book move along. It could really take place in any urban area with suburbs. If you like highly descriptive novels, this is not for you. Rating: 4

Language- This is the strength of the book. As one would expect with a book titled grammarians, words, and the way that they are used are extremely important. Every section (there are no actual chapters) begins with a word and its archaic definition. There is a clever way that the author makes us look at the word, and the duality of meanings that some words have. If you are entranced by words, you might give this a try. Rating: 8

Structure- The novel is fairly straightforward and in chronological order. It is told third person omniscient, which is a good structure for the novel because we get a peak into each sisters thoughts independently. The novel lacks depth in certain areas, because there are entire parts of their lives that are skipped over. If you want to know EVERYTHING about the characters, it will leave you yearning for more information. While you often get a peak into their souls, there is not much background. Much is left for the reader to imagine or assume what happened. Unfortunately, the reader may not care what the characters are thinking. Rating: 5

Readability- As one could imagine, a book that lacks plot, setting and likable characters is sometimes difficult to get through. If you do not like clever word play and an almost essay like structure, you may have difficulty getting through it. Because of this, I found that I could only read a section or two at a time. There is not an immediate draw to pick up this book and read it. Though only 200 e reader pages, it often seems longer. If you want a page turned, not for you. Rating: 3

Message- This book made me think. While the traditional things on which we base a book are lacking, I still thought that reading this book was a worthwhile experience. There are underlying themes and messages in this book that are highly discussable, and relevant in todays world. After reading the book I was captivated by the thought of what is language, and what does it mean in the greater context of our culture. I will continue to think about this book for awhile, no matter what its shortcomings were, because I think its broader message is that important. Rating: 10

Overall Score: 39/70, which for today we will equate to 3 out of 5 stars.

There are many things wrong with this novel, but at the end of the day I’m glad that I read it. As always, open for discussion with anyone that has read it.