Elie Wiesel’s Night is my cousin’s favourite book. My cousin who has read, I’d guess, somewhere in the neighbourhood of five novels in his lifetime. But he read Night because it’s one of the book we’re all meant to read. And so I read it, too, anticipating it as depressing and unsettling. What I couldn’t have anticipated – and this causes me great discomfort to admit to myself, let alone on a public forum like this – was that I also found it boring.
My familiarity with the events and tropes of Wiesel’s book arise, no doubt, both from the years I spent absorbed by Holocaust fiction (13-18?) after reading The Diary of Anne Frank and from a culture saturated with the story that, with minor variation, we are all meant to know. But simple familiarity should not so fully dull my emotional reactions, right? And so the way I’ve been able to understand my reaction in a way that doesn’t cause self-loathing or deep concern about my continuing existence as an empathetic and affective individual is through philosophies on boredom (principally Heidegger) that suggest it is when confronted with the profoundly meaningless that individuals resort to a passive indifference: when set against an existential void a (reasonable?) response is boredom.
I’ll also understand my reaction as one to literary form. The narrative tone is, appropriate to the subject matter, flat. The same diction, pace and tone is employed in describing rations of food as is the death of Wiesel’s father. Perhaps it is the case that as all events are treated and narrated as equally affect-less the reader might find the form of the text, if not the content, dull.
This ambivalence, then, is how I’m prepared to understand the book and my reaction. And I’ll entertain conversations with those of you who might have read the book, too, or who might want to comment on my apparent lack-of-feeling. Perhaps I just want to be reassured that I am not callous and am not maliciously, only defensively, indifferent.