One of the advantages of getting review copies of books is that it forces me out of my comfort zone sometimes. If it were up to me, there’s a lot of books that I probably never would have read in the first place, and sometimes, being given a book that’s out of my usual wheelhouse allows me to expand my horizons, or at least take a shot on something that I wouldn’t be motivated to do. Such is the case with The X-Factor, the story of a young Slovenian woman who enters into the high-risk, high-reward fashion industry, only to be chewed up and spat out by the horrific machine that keeps the industry moving along. There’s not much about the fashion industry that interests me, and the subject matters sounded a bit lurid…and yet, I try to stay open minded, and try out review copies that I normally wouldn’t. And, to be fair, while the idea of the fashion industry isn’t really that compelling to me, the idea of seeing it through the perspective of a Slovenian woman? That’s more so.
So let’s get the bad out of the way first. As an American reader, it’s painfully obvious at times that Sivec isn’t a native English language speaker, and whether that’s evident because of the translation, or because of Sivec himself, I can’t say. What I can say is that there’s a lot of awkward language throughout the book. It’s never to the point where you’re lost, or where it sounds truly awful, but it never quite flows together in the way the best writing does. Again, maybe that’s Sivec’s writing; maybe that’s the translation. But whichever it is, there’s no denying that this is a book that feels like it needs some polishing and tweaking to make it flow more smoothly and naturally, at least from a dialect and dialogue perspective.
And yet, Sivec has a surprisingly engaging voice, one that displays a lot more confidence and willingness to play with language than many authors. Interrupting his own story to comment on it, interjecting different forms of writing, acting as his own Greek chorus, Sivec’s writing is more engaging and interesting than I was expecting, and it kept me reading the story more than I really planned on at times. The story is about what you expect, as models get used and abused, exploited, hooked on drugs, and so forth – in other words, about what you’d expect from everything you’ve heard about the fashion industry. But Sivec tells it with a good pace and some interesting characters that keep us engaged, hoping for the best even as we’re realizing the worst.
The X-Factor isn’t ever going to be on my “best books” list by any means. The story is a little familiar, the writing occasionally awkward, and so forth. But it’s a book that I went into with fairly low expectations only to be pleasantly surprised by how engaging and interesting I found it; even with those flaws, I mostly enjoyed it, and it’s a novel window into an aspect of life in foreign countries that many of us never consider.