Book Review: Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain

Posted August 22, 2013 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 14 Comments

Book Review: Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain
Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain
Published by Penguin Books on Aug. 6, 2013
Pages: 472
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

It’s the fall of 1990, and Jacob is a young American expat who has arrived in Prague on a quest for self discovery. Although he is a year too late to witness the revolution, he hopes to catch the spirit of change and to observe the transition from communism to capitalism. He begins teaching at a language school, where he falls in with a group of fellow expat English teachers.

Necessary Errors is a long, meandering novel about Jacob’s experiences in Prague… his struggles in love (made more complicated because he is gay, and Czechoslovakia is less open than America), his growing friendships, and his observations of the transitioning country. It’s an everyday epic; although nothing terribly major happens, it chronicles the incidents and reflections that make a life.

Replete with philosophical conversations about the meaning of love and art, communism and capitalism, friendship and romance, this book feels so realistic. Although I sometimes thought the characters a bit pretentious — half the time I had no idea what they were talking about — it felt right. The conversations of these characters reminded me of the seemingly deep, philosophical late-night conversations that were some of my favorites in college. And of course these 20-something expats complaining about the increase in tourists since the revolution are kind of pretentious — but I had to love them anyway. Their relationships, complete with imagined slights, awkward crushes, and late nights in bars, felt real, and I really enjoyed reading about them. Reading their long, in-depth, analytical conversations got to be a bit tedious, though.

“They could talk all night if they wanted to. They were young. For years and years still, they were going to be able to live this carelessly.”

The descriptions of Prague were wonderful. Crain does a fantastic job describing not only the physical beauty of the city, but the people and the very atmosphere. It was interesting to read about the changes that occur in the year or two following the revolution, as businesses begin to privatize, English becomes more in-demand, and tourism increases. He really excels at evoking the setting and mood of Prague.

This isn’t a page-turning book; it’s a quiet, reflective sort of novel that needs to be read slowly so you can soak up the setting and the tone. I had some trouble getting into it for this reason; it’s no fault of the book, but I don’t always have the patience to take it slow! The writing sometimes felt a bit clumsy but was lovely for the most part.

My biggest gripe while reading this book turned out to be a matter of my own stupidity. Crain sometimes uses quotation marks and sometimes uses dashes to indicate dialog, and I hate that kind of inconsistency. It wasn’t until I was 10 pages from the end that I realized he was using quotes for English speech and dashes to show that the characters are speaking Czech. I’m probably dumb to not have figured that out sooner, but I thought I would mention it to save anyone else who reads this from the frustration!

I liked Necessary Errors, but I didn’t love it. I would definitely recommend it to people who are looking for a quiet, rambling read about trying to find oneself in a country on the brink of change, but it might not be the right book for someone looking to read about a rollicking good time abroad.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

  • Reblogged this on Creative Writing School.

  • I really like the idea of denoting speech in different languages by different quotation markers. In books where more than one language is being spoken, it often gets clunky to specify. I don’t think I would have figured it out right away either though.

    • Once I figured it out, I liked it; it was a really good way to denote which language the characters were speaking in. I just wish I had realized what he was doing earlier!

  • I’ve been seeing this book around but hadn’t been really sure what the story was behind it. It sounds like something I would like (and something that would make me quite jealous of the characters!)

    • It really did make me want to drop everything and take off for Europe! I miss that kind of adventure.

  • The setting sounds lovely… Prague 🙂 I think that I would like this book, but I doubt that I would have picked it up myself.

    • The setting is fantastic!

  • Yours is the second review I’ve read today about this book, both good reviews. As soon as I pick up a copy, I’ll add it to my TBR list! Thanks, Rebecca, for giving it such a thorough review.

  • Super, super review Leah! Meandering…perfect word for this one 😀

    • Thanks! I loved your use of the word ‘expansive.’ It fits the book really well!

  • I think this review is really a good one because I feel like I get a great sense of this book. Off to read Jennifer’s review of the book! 🙂

    • Thanks Rebecca! Jen’s review is really good!

  • Pingback: Quotable Friday: from Necessary Errors | Books Speak Volumes()