The hero of this astonishing novel is called Chance - he may be the man of tomorrow. Flung into the real world when his rich benefactor dies, Chance is helped on his life journey by Elizabeth Eve, the young, beautiful, resourceful wife of a dying Wall Street mogul. Accidentally launched into a world of sex, money, power - and national television - ...
The hero of this astonishing novel is called Chance - he may be the man of tomorrow. Flung into the real world when his rich benefactor dies, Chance is helped on his life journey by Elizabeth Eve, the young, beautiful, resourceful wife of a dying Wall Street mogul. Accidentally launched into a world of sex, money, power - and national television - he becomes a media superstar, a household name, the man of the hour - and, who knows, perhaps the next President of the United States of America.
Being There takes place in New York, most likely sometime around 1970 and it tells the story about Chance, a handsome but somewhat mentally retarded young man. As long as he can remember, he has always been working in a garden owned by his sickly employer and patron, The Old Man, and the only people he has ever socialized with are the ones who are living in the house right next to the garden. Chance can neither read nor write and he spends all his time either taking care of the plants in the garden or watching television. Since he has never been outside the gates of the house, his understanding of the outside world is quite limited and solely based on countless hours of watching television in an almost febrile manner. Moreover, he has no identification documents whatsoever in his possession, so when The Old Man passes away one day after several years of sickness, there are no papers that can prove that Chance has lived in the house and worked in the garden all his life. As a matter of fact, there are not even any papers that can confirm that he has existed at all up to that very moment. Therefore, Chance is forced to leave the house and suddenly he finds himself all alone in terra incognita, an unknown and strange world that he has thus far only observed through the television screen. However, he does not let this fact deject him even remotely and he goes, dressed in one of The Old Man?s best and tailor-made suits and polished shoes, out to face the wide world with his head held high. It does not take a long time before Chance gets involved in a minor car accident and meets Elizabeth Eve (?EE?) Rand, the owner of the car and the young wife of an elderly and affluent Wall Street Mogul named Benjamin Rand. EE is deceived by Chance?s outfit and jumps to the misconclusion that he must be a successful businessman. She even mishears his name and is certain that his name is Chancey Gardiner, when he in reality introduced himself as ?Chance, the gardener?. Fully convinced that she has found a pleasant man, EE wants to compensate for the unfortunate accident by inviting Chance to her house on Manhattan. There, he becomes acquainted with both Mr and Mrs Rand, but when he suddenly blurts out some random and vague aphorisms concerning gardening over the dinner table, the married couple misunderstands him. They get the wrong impression and think that he is talking about the current state of the economy of the country and they start to recognize Chance as a brilliant and perceptive tycoon. The same thing happens the following day when Chance meets the president, who is an old friend of Mr Rand?s, and tells him about how the different seasons affect the ?garden?. He portrays the growth during the summer and how it all has to wither when autumn comes, only to make it possible for the ?garden? to prosper and sprout once again when spring arrives. This statement is gravely misinterpreted by the president, who concludes that this must be a metaphor regarding the economical growth in the country. Soon, Chance becomes an excessively famous authority who is quoted by the president, interviewed on television and gets the chance to spend time with UN ambassadors. Every time he has to comment on something, he uses his ?garden metaphor? and gets acknowledged as a true genius.
Being There is not a particularly long book; it is not more than 150 pages in total. Despite that fact, it is very eventful and the story itself is in many ways quite unique. The writing style Kosinski used when he wrote this extraordinary piece of fiction reminds me a bit of how a fairy tale usually is composed. Everything happens in chronological order and there is almost not a single retrospective analepsis in the entire novel. It is also sometimes possible to guess almost exactly what will happen on the next page, but in spite of this ounce of predictability, the book is full of surprises. As the story almost exclusively focuses on how Chance experiences and reflects on the first days he spends outside the confinement of the house where he grew up, it is safe to say that he can be considered as the protagonist of the book and consequently, it is Chance who carries the story forward. However, it can be discussed whether or not it really is Chance who always makes the important decisions, because he sometimes gives the impression of being a rather slow and even stupid person who only does what others tell him to do. One of the things I found a bit strange when I was reading this novel was that it, in my opinion, has no character development whatsoever. Some people might think that this observation is dismissible due to the fact that the book only takes place during approximately one week. Thus, the author may have thought that it would be odd if some of the characters changed in any way worth mentioning during such a limited interval of time. Nevertheless, I still think that Chance would have appeared as a more believable and real character if he had been just a little more affected by the new things he is confronted with in the ?real? world.
It is indisputably possible to look upon this novel as a political satire, full of criticism against how we let television influence our perspectives and lives. Yet I believe that the most significant thing Kosinski wanted to achieve by writing this story was to give an accurate and narrative portrayal of the human tendency to create delusions about other people. The message of the book is in other words that we ought to realize that we all have this tendency and that we should try to stop making rash conclusions about people solely based on their appearance, way of dress and seemingly intellectual statements. We do not see others for what they really are, but for what we want them to be and when we have made up our minds regarding the matter, we stick to that illusion as long as possible.
To be honest, I am not sure what I really think of Being There. It is undoubtedly one of the strangest books I have ever read and it made me see the world through different eyes. I cannot say whether it was good or bad, but it is undeniably a novel that makes you reflect on how we all live our lives and it made me realize that we live in a remarkable world that sometimes can be downright crazy. However, there is one thing I want to point out that I do not like about Kosinski?s book; and that is the way he describes people. Naturally, I agree with him when it comes to certain aspects of human characteristics, but sometimes he makes it seem like we all wander around aimlessly in the world and that we are dissatisfied with everything in general. I also got the impression that he deliberately portrayed the characters in the story as insufferably foolish creatures that cannot see beyond their own situations in life. Furthermore, I think that this short story gets less interesting after a while, as nothing extraordinarily new happens in the second half of the book, possibly with the exception of Chance?s first encounter with love and desire. Towards the end of the novel, the story gets more and more unrealistic and the last page is like an unsolved mystery for me. What happens in the end? I am honestly not sure, but I have some rather farfetched theories, so it would be extremely interesting to discuss it with someone. The thing I really like about this book is the way it is written, even though it has not got many detailed descriptions of neither the setting nor the characters. The plain and straightforward language Kosinski used when he wrote the book contributes to the story?s charm and makes it a very unique and fascinating reading experience.
In conclusion, I would just like to say that I highly recommend this book to everyone who is interested in reading a story about a somewhat peculiar man who, without lifting a finger or by trying to be anyone except himself, suddenly becomes a celebrity and thus affects the history of the world simply by being there.
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