I bought the book MY NAME IS N (also titled THE SWEDE) for one reason: I heard the protagonist is gay, and this had pissed off a lot of people, who were now slamming it with one star reviews on Amazon. “How dare you trick me!” “It was a good book until I realized the main character was gay!” “Ew! Gross!”
So I bought it. Not only did I want to piss off the people who were pissed off, I wanted to read a book in which the main character was gay, but also in which this wasn’t the main plot. I don’t enjoy gay romances, or any story in which the relationship is the main story. I’d rather read about LGBT characters who are living their lives and having thrilling adventures, and who are also LGB or T. A doctor saves lives in the ER, then comes home to her wife. A spy escapes death, then meets his boyfriend in a cafe. You get the idea.
So I settled in for a good read.
It was awful.
I wanted to like the book. I really did. But it was dreadful.
The book has three stories running. A man with amnesia is caught in the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka. He and a group of other survivors become incensed at an American church group that blames all the death and destruction on the sins of the local people (including gay people), so they decide to set up a bank heist and blame it on the (thinly-veiled Westboro) church.
Meanwhile, in the present day, a Swedish security agent named Grip travels to a US military base. He’s been hired to question a prisoner known only as N to find out if N is Swedish.
A third plot involves Grip’s backstory.
The book moves so slowly, and is exceedingly dull, I don’t know how it gets marketed as a thriller. It takes three chapters just for Grip to travel from Sweden to the military base. This kind of thing CAN be interesting, but in this book, it’s plodding and dull. Huge chunks could have been cut out and we’d miss nothing.
The characters are flat and boring. We have a stereotypical Russian madman, a stereotypical stoic Swede, a stereotypical bombshell woman, a stereotypical . . . oh, you get the picture. Even Ben, the gay love interest character, runs a friggin’ art gallery. Because, you know, that’s what gay men do.
When Grip questions N, there are no stakes. Grip doesn’t really care who N really is or if he’s really Swedish, and nothing bad will happen to Grip if he can’t figure out who N is or get him to talk, so the puzzle is merely intellectual. Yawn. We readers already know who N about ten seconds after we meet him (SPOILER: he’s the bank robber guy from Sri Lanka–but it’s so batantly obvious, I don’t know why the author pretends the readers don’t know), so there’s no suspense there. Since we know N will get caught during the robbery, that suspense is over. The only question that’s vaguely troubling is why N is being held on a military base. But really, by now we don’t care, because N doesn’t seem to care. In fact, no one in this entire novel really seems to care about anyone else. Even Grip and his boyfriend Ben don’t show any affection for each other–deliberately so, according to Grip’s musings. And so we readers don’t care, either.
The gay relationship stuff revolves around (sigh) AIDS. Really? Must everything in the LGBT community involve AIDS? There are eight bazillion books, movies, TV shows, and even commercials about the LGBT community and AIDS. We’re tired of it and we don’t need more. Yeah, Ben needs money for medical stuff, which propels part of the plot, but Ben could just have easily had any other expensive, life-threatening condition. It didn’t have to be AIDS. Again.
Give this one a miss, folks. It’s bad writing, no matter what the main character’s orientation might be.
–Steven Harper Piziks