Elif Batuman’s The Idiot follows Selin beginning her university adventure at Harvard. As a highly relatable coming-of-age novel, The Idiot emphasises the difficulties young adults face regarding finding new friends, falling in love, and feeling as if you’re not doing enough to achieve your dreams. It tackles these themes with humour, and I believe the story will connect with many readers on a personal level.
This novel is slow, and much of the first half focuses on the very mundane happenings of university life. I feel that this may bore many readers, but I loved it for this reason and found it very nostalgic. Although, I think it is important to recognise that I read this book just after my last year of university was cut short due to COVID-19, and so if I wasn’t missing university so much, I perhaps would have also fallen a bit bored. Selin’s experience also differed massively from my own for she was shockingly sober for a first year student, but I enjoyed the fact that this book focused more on other aspects of student life. I liked learning about language from what our protagonist was taught in her lectures, and further, seeing the theories be reflected in her interactions with other characters.
I found reading about Selin and Ivan’s relationship (or lack of) extremely interesting because I think Batuman perfectly portrayed how deeply you can fall for a person without actually being with them. As someone who has found myself in this situation before, I enjoyed being able to relate as I have never read a book which has explored such a predicament. Books containing romance usually result in a relationship, a friends with benefits situation, or unrequited love. But not in The Idiot; instead we see a completely different take on young feelings. We see Selin and Ivan grow to care for one another despite knowing it would never work out between them, and knowing this led to a lack of communication which caused many issues throughout the book. And so it is a messy story, but it is realistic one and I applaud the author for that.
The second half of the novel saw a switch in setting as our characters do some travelling in the summer holidays. This half was even slower than the first, and I unfortunately didn’t love it as much. I personally felt that the author started to ramble and not much actually happened. Moreover, new characters that didn’t add anything to the plot line were introduced at this half way mark. Both of these issues together mean that the novel just could have been much shorter in my opinion. And to add another criticism, I also didn’t find this book particularly funny, which was disappointing considering many reviews I read claimed that it made readers laugh out loud.
So the aspects of this novel that I enjoyed I absolutely loved, but the elements I didn’t enjoy so much I really disliked. I initially gave it a 3-star rating on Goodreads due to my conflicting thoughts, however I have found myself thinking about it a lot in the past couple of months since reading it. Therefore, I would consider it an impactful book and I will probably up my rating to 4-stars. Not many novels stick with me in the way that The Idiot has, and I really can’t ignore that.