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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Change Me

Andrej Blatnik

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To purchase Change Me

Title: Change Me
Author: Andrej Blatnik
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Slovenian
Availability: Change Me - US
Change Me - UK
Change Me - Canada
Ändere mich - Deutschland
Cambiami - Italia
  • Slovenian title: Spremeni me
  • Translated by Tamara M. Soban

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly effective take on being unmoored in contemporary society

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 9/1/2010 Jörg Plath

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das abgedroschen wirkende, aus Trivial- und Science-Fiction-Romanen zusammengerührte Szenario kommt auch mühsam daher, weil Blatnik die Kapitel nach allerlei Tänzen benannt hat («Verstauchte Polka», «Freiheitlicher Tango»). Die Anzahl der Figuren je Kapitel ist damit auf nur zwei beschränkt, was dem vorherrschenden Dialog einen gewaltigen Teil der Beschreibungslast auflädt: Das apokalyptische Gesellschaftsszenario wird in den Rahmen eines betulich-boulevardesken Kammerspiels gequetscht. Du musst deinen Roman ändern!, möchte man Andrej Blatnik fortwährend zurufen." - Jörg Plath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The opening and closing chapters of Change Me are identical, a one-page letter from Borut to his wife Monika that begins: "Let's do it now, let's end this story, you and me, we've waited long enough". There is something of a circular structure to the story as well, Borut abandoning the household -- his wife and two young boys -- at the beginning and then returning to it at the end, and Blatnik emphasizes a connectedness and continuity along the way even as the chapters alternate between Monika's and Borut's now separate lives by repeating the closing sentence(s) of each chapter as the opening one(s) of the next. As with the letter at the start and end of the novel, the repeated sentences are identical but different in their meaning and context.
       Time and locale are not specified precisely, but Change Me is set in a near-future, and the local history suggests a post-Yugoslavia. The dystopian features of the world Borut and Monika inhabit are significant but Blatnik does not focus too directly on painting a dark, future alter-world; more effectively, he shows how his two characters, in their personal crises -- Borut's own, and Monika's, triggered by his sudden disappearance --, navigate it, holding up mirrors of sorts to this distorted world.
       Blatnik's future world is a highly commercialized one: Monika used to implore Borut to take the toddlers along when he went shopping:, because: "They need to learn ! Shopping is life !" while the city expands in an uncontrollable cancerous growth of shopping sites: "The jungle of consumption was overgrowing the city". (While Blatnik does present food delivery as a ubiquitous service, the book didn't foresee the explosive growth in online shopping; in this world, shopping remains a hands-on experience.)
       At one store the new motto is:

Shopping's the thing. In religion the future is behind us. In shopping, the present is eternal.
       (If that's the idea being sold, not everyone has been won over yet, however, and neither Monika nor the employee who obediently parrots it understand the motto.)
       Naturally-grown food is an expensive rarity, while: "Synth food is the biggest business" -- though it doesn't appear to be very healthy. And the surveillance state -- almost everything is under the watchful lenses of closed-circuit TV -- has gone commercial, too, with livestreams of every nook and cranny available for subscription-viewing to anyone willing to pay.
       Borut was complicit in the spreading of this consumer-madness, "the best-paid creative mind of the Central World" as he found great success in advertising after abandoning a sputtering academic career; the societal shifts of the time had found many in the business "fleeing the advertising factories for the world of artistic idleness" -- and so: "his PhD suddenly ceased to be an insurmountable obstacle. For lack of a better choice, the service industry was willing to employ even highly educated people". He was very good at his job, and very successful; with Monika working as well, the family was well off and comfortable.
       Borut's abandoning his family does not come entirely out of the blue (except for them ...); he quit his job months earlier -- but that first step away from the compromised involvement in the new-world-order clearly wasn't enough, and, with some money saved up, he tries an apparently more radical break. Monika, taken by surprise, stumbles on, trying to adapt to life without her husband. She does quickly bring a man home -- another sort of seeker, lost in a number of ways (rather amusingly presented by Blatnik) -- but is certainly not up for a new relationship yet either; she, too, finds herself, more than anything, flummoxed by the contemporary world they live in.
       Borut's saved-up money doesn't last long, his do-gooder efforts drops in an overwhelming pond. The difficulty of making a difference sinks in fairly quickly -- and, in one of the novel's more intriguing episodes, he instead confronts the powers-that-be, meeting the powerful Chairman (who, in a nice touch, collects historical scarfs and shawls -- worn on famous, tragic occasions (Benazir Bhutto's, when she was assassinated; Jacqueline Onassis' from that car-ride in Dallas; etc.)). But the power structure is, of course, so deeply embedded that even a blow here has only limited effect.
       Both main characters wander through the novel in something of a daze. Blatnik titles his chapters after dances, with a twist -- 'Paralyzed Quickstep' or 'Solitary Paso Doble', for example --, and there is a dance-like flow to the narrative. So too, the main characters are partnered up with different figures in their chapters, a back and forth as they try to situate themselves that is also a constant reminder of the absent partner in what had recently been a cohesive family unit. After he leaves, Borut does communicate with Monika via e-mail on occasion, but these are soliloquies, not the start or part of conversations; Monika writes responses, but the e-mails bounce back as Borut also in this way makes an effort to remain unreachable.
       Change Me does convey the personal struggle of adapting to and resisting a world dominated by commercial forces, alone and together. Individuals float largely on their own -- even before Borut leaves: "Monika no longer had any friends, her job had taken its toll" -- and from their young boys' obsession with video games onwards, it's clear that the technological alter-world has overwhelmed much of the real one: "Online is genuine. More genuine than anywhere else. Everything's moved online. Everything".
       As one woman explains to Borut:
What's fake about a genuine choice from among created templates ? This is the kind of freedom we want
       Borut, of course, is seeking a different, greater freedom -- but is change even possible in this world any longer ? He shuts down his own machines -- and probably wiped the hard drives -- when he fled his home -- but is personal erasure even possible (or meaningful) any longer ?
       The story is nicely supported by its structure -- going full circle, and back and forth in between -- and Blatnik does present a modern-day critique that is fairly effective. A number of the episodes and encounters are particularly good -- Blatnik is better-known for his short stories, and his facility with that form shows here -- though as a whole it is not entirely satisfying, with a bit too little behind his protagonists (their portrayal impressing in the moment, but lacking some in foundation for the bigger-picture view).

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 September 2019

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Change Me: Reviews: Andrej Blatnik: Other books by Andrej Blatnik under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Slovenian author Andrej Blatnik was born in 1963.

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© 2019 the complete review

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